History of water availability in the Rockies shows trouble ahead

Scott Johnson

Dillion Reservoir outside of Dillon, Colorado

Communities in the Rocky Mountain region of North America rely on snowmelt to provide water for drinking, sanitation, irrigation, and industry. Snow, which falls in the mountains during the winter, acts like a massive frozen water tower, providing a steady supply of water throughout the drier summer months. Water usage in many cities is growing rapidly, and some are already encountering the limits of water availability. The threat of climate change looms large—warming temperatures would push the snowline to higher elevations, decreasing the capacity of that frozen water tower.

Two recent papers shed some light on the long-term history of water availability in the region to provide insights into the current situation, as well as a future outlook.

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