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Water seminar asks what prolonged drought means for Southwest Colorado

170 people hear presentations from water experts, professors and tribal leaders
More than 100 people listened to water managers and climate experts about the drought and water plans on Friday during the Southwestern Water Conservation District seminar in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

There was drought doom and gloom and also rays of hope during the Southwestern Water Conservation District annual seminar Friday in Durango.

A sold-out crowd of 120 people attended the seminar at the DoubleTree Hotel and another 50 tuned in online.

Water managers, researchers, college professors, climatologists and representatives from the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes gave presentations about the lack of water supply in Southwest Colorado and participated in panels.

The last 30 years were drier than the previous two 30-year periods in Southwest Colorado, and temperatures have been consistently warming since the 1930s, said Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist for Colorado State University.

The drier times are worse, the wet times are less beneficial, the snow season is shorter, the runoff comes earlier, monsoons are less reliable and the drier atmosphere dries out the soils faster, she said.

Susan Behery, a hydraulic engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation, makes a presentation Friday during the Southwestern Water Conservation District Water Seminar at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Forecasts show “the region is very likely to see warmer-than-average temperatures, and more than likely to be drier than average,” said Rob Genualdi, Division 7 engineer for Colorado Division of Water Resources.

There is variability, for example, the 1980s were wetter-than-average years, as were the early 1900s.

Water managers have learned that decent March and April snowfall is critical to boost snowpack and meet supply targets, said Heidi Steltzer, professor of environment and sustainability at Fort Lewis College.

Water managers can’t rely on early season snow, even if it is above-average. Dust on snow is happening more, and the darker layer speeds up evaporation of snowpack, further reducing water supplies.

The drought brings more dust into the atmosphere, causing the unique experience for locals “when rain falls as mud,” Steltzer said.

Changing human behavior is needed to adjust to climate change and the reality of less water, she said.

“We know the choices to make, but we’re not making those choices,” Steltzer said.

A therapy session of sorts is needed to create the “spaces where we understand ourselves and learn practices” that adjust to the predictions of less water in the future.

She implored those in attendance to keep in mind “water equity in society.”

“Look who has the least and give – not territorialism,” she said.

The afternoon sessions include “100 years of the Colorado River Compact” and “Balancing Protection and Use of Our Natural Resources.”

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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