Climate Change Will Bring Colorado More Drought, Less Water

“Climate change is water change,” proclaimed Brad Udall, Senior Water and Climate Research Scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center, in his podcast.

The third Climate Change in Colorado Assessment backs that up. “Persistent dry conditions,” the report mentions, have been a part of life in the 21st century in the centennial state, and dryer conditions mean less water. Commissioned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, scientists at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University produced the report.

Four of the five driest years in the state have occurred since 2000, with drying trends in the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Summer precipitation decreased by 20 percent in Northwest Colorado since 2000.

From 1980 to 2022, statewide annual average temperatures warmed by 2.3 F. Only one year in this century has been cooler than the 1971-200 average. Expect the warming trends to continue. By 2050, climate scientists project that statewide annual temperatures will warm by 2.5 F to 5.5 F, under a high-emissions scenario, and 3.0 F to 6.5 F by 2070.

The severity of droughts has increased due to warming temperatures in this century. The probability that warmer temperatures will contribute to the frequency and severity of droughts is likely, according to the report. Intense droughts occurred in 2002, 2012, 2018, and 2020.

Climate Change Will Impact Agriculture And Natural Forests

Drought affects the agricultural sector. In the eastern part of Colorado, livestock and field crops rely on groundwater pumped from the High Plains Aquifer, which is becoming depleted, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states. Irrigation demands will increase irrigation demands and reduce the aquifer’s natural recharge, lowering the water table even more.

Less available water will cause some farms to do dry land faring, which cuts the yield in half. Severe heat waves will harm livestock. Higher temperatures would reduce corn yields, even where enough water is available. Wheat yields will likely reduce due to shorter winters. Colorado is the fourth largest wheat grower. However, more carbon dioxide may increase wheat yields enough to offset the higher temperatures. A longer growing season may occur with warmer and shorter winters, allowing for two crops per year instead of one.

Pests thrive in warmer, drier conditions, with temperature controlling the life cycle and winter mortality rates of pests such as the mountain pine beetle. Higher winter temperatures make it possible for some pests to live year-round. Drought reduces the ability of trees to defend themselves against pest attacks. An outbreak of the mountain pine beetle in 2006 covered almost half of the state’s forests and killed nearly five million lodgepole pines.

Wildfires Will Abound

Climate change and natural disasters fit together like chocolate and peanut butter. Hot days and heat waves have already become more common. The number of cold waves and cold nights has decreased while heat waves have increased. Wildfires increase with more heatwaves. Since 2000, large wildfires increased and burned with a higher intensity than last century. More warming will lead to more increases in large wildfires and the annual area burned by all wildfires.

Colorado serves as a microcosm and cautionary tale of the larger story of climate change and its global impacts.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

Get in Touch


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Articles

Get in Touch


Latest Posts