As Climate Warms, Cities Look To Adjust

As climate warms, cities look to adjust
By John K. Wiley

The Associated Press

SPOKANE — Unlike her neighbors', Rachael Paschal Osborn's yard isn't an expanse of green grass meticulously fertilized and watered on schedule by timed sprinklers.

Paschal Osborn, a public-interest lawyer who teaches water law at Gonzaga University's Law School, doesn't like to waste a drop. So the grass in her west Spokane yard is brown during the summer, while drought-resistant native plants and her vegetable garden thrive on drip irrigation.

Climate experts say the rest of Washington may have to follow Paschal Osborn's example in the future as global warming changes the way residents use water on their yards and in their homes.

The gradual warming of the earth's surface will have both benefits and drawbacks for municipal water systems, they say.

Kurt Ungur, a hydrogeologist with the state Department of Ecology, said a warmer climate likely will produce about the same amounts of precipitation — possibly a bit more — but its timing will change from historic patterns.

In winter, more precipitation will fall as rain, rather than snow, which serves as the mountain "bank" for much of the state's water supplies. In spring, warmer temperatures will bring earlier runoff, leading to potential conflicts over scarce water in late summer, he said.

Paschal Osborn, co-founder with husband John Osborn of the nonprofit Columbia Institute for Water Policy, said most of the state's cities are unprepared for the consequences of global warming.

"The potential for change is dramatic. It could change the natural ecology of forests. It is also going to change the human landscape," Paschal Osborn said. "It will change what we can grow for crops and what we can grow in our yards."

Paschal Osborn, Ungur and others point to Seattle, which has taken the lead in promoting water conservation and planning for the effects of climate change.

Heather Cooley of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, Calif., said communities could reduce their annual water consumption by 30 percent through use of low-flow devices, efficient landscaping and more efficient use of water by commercial and industrial customers.

Paul Fleming, manager of climate-change initiatives for Seattle's water utility, said the key will be mitigating effects of greenhouse-gas emissions, then adapting to the changes that warming will bring.

"The impacts don't manifest themselves for quite a while. I think we have some time to make investments to strengthen the resiliency of our system," Fleming said.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
My previous entry this year on effect of climate change on Washington state and melting glaciers:

North Cascade Glaciers

You must look at these pictures.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007 · Last updated 6:01 p.m. PT

New study says climate change already affecting Washington


SEATTLE -- From more devastating wildfires to decreased snow in the mountains, climate change is already affecting Washington's economy, a new report says.

And as temperatures continue to increase, the changes will only become more dramatic: Low-lying areas such as the Skagit River delta will flood as sea levels rise, more people will get asthma as pollution worsens and the state's dairy cows will produce less milk in hotter weather, to cite a few of the report's warnings.

The report was commissioned by the state departments of Ecology and Community Trade and Economic Development, and was researched and written by Climate Leadership Initiative at the University of Oregon, with guidance from Washington economists and scientists.

There are too many variables involved to put a price tag on the impact climate change is already having or will have in the future, the report said.

"Absent focused efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare, to the extent possible, for the environmental and economic changes that cannot be avoided, damage to our Northwest economy will only increase," Ecology Director Jay Manning said in a news release.

The 119-page report weighs the effects of warmer temperatures on various sectors of the economy, based on predictions that the region's climate will warm half-a-degree per decade over the next several decades, and poses questions for policymakers to consider.

Among the gravest concerns are effects that retreating snowpack in the mountains will have on hydropower generation, drinking water supplies, irrigation for crops and stream flows for salmon. As many as 75 percent of glaciers in the North Cascades could vanish in this century if those warming predictions prove true, the report said.

Climate Change Affecting Washington State
Glaciers are melting all over the world from the Himalayas, to the Alps, to South America, to Africa, New Zealand, Greenland, the Arctic, and also right here in the United States. And they are melting at a faster rate than scientists had previously predicted because the real affects of human induced climate change combined with other weather phenomenon are much more extreme than anticipated as well.

The signs are there regarding what human behavior regarding burning fossil fuels to wasteful management of resources is doing to our planet and our resources, chief among them water. It is time for people to see these signs, understand them truthfully, and prepare for what we have put into motion as well by doing everything possible to preserve what we have left. We threaten our future existence the longer we continue to drag our feet.

Many people do not realize how important an indicator melting glaciers are regarding climate change. With every inch that melts, it is less snow pack to fill rivers and streams that provide water for living. With every inch that melts, a bit of climate history goes with it.

Glaciers Melting Worldwide, Study Finds

I do not believe we can now stop these glaciers from melting, but we can hopefully slow it down and begin to help mitigating even more catastrophic affects of the climate crisis that will threaten the world water supply even more severely in years to come. Conservation is key. Facing the crisis of overpopulation is key in regards to providing people in underdeveloped and developing countries with information on family planning and birth control. Looking into alternate energies (not corn ethanol) for underdeveloped countries and developing countries that do not waste water (as in solar power.) And most importantly, educating people about irrigation methods (such as subsurface drip irrigation) that do not waste water!

This for sure is a crisis that has already begun. However, the most devastating effects of it can be mitigated if we only see the URGENCY of acting NOW. How long will we wait? Until the Snows of Kilamanjaro are gone? Until there are no more Alps? No more Himalayas? The repercussions of such a thing are simply too catastrophic to contemplate.

Also see my other entries on this topic with more to come:

The Glaciers of South America: Cities In Peril Of Losing Water

Tibet's Lofty Glaciers Melting Away

Water At Risk For Millions Due To Melting Glaciers