Colorado is vulnerable to increasing heat, melting snowpack and glaciers, reduced water availability and wildfires
Colorado’s climate is already changing. Over the past 30 years, statewide annual average temperatures have increased by 2°F according to a state-commissioned study. Due to this, Colorado has had to endure more heat waves, drier soils and more frequent and severe wildfires. In the future, Colorado can expect increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves, reduced snowpack, reduced water availability and increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires. These impacts will impact Colorado’s agriculture industry, harm human health and decrease ecosystem resiliency.
- Increasing temperatures: The Southwest is already one of the driest and hottest regions in the US. Increasing temperatures will only exacerbate challenges already present such as heat waves, crop failure, drought, and reduced snowpack, posing increasing threats and costs to public health in Colorado cities especially. A Risky Business report projects the number of days per year of temperatures at or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will increase by 13 to 28 additional days by mid-century, and an additional 33 to 70 days by the end of the century. That’s one to two months of additional days of extreme heat for babies being born right now in this region.
- Melting Snowpack: Snowpack and streamflow are projected to decline in Colorado, reducing the reliability of surface water. Reduced water availability combined with increasing temperatures threaten crops and animal agriculture in Colorado. The state has experienced early melt-off of snow in the valleys during winter, demonstrating how climate change is altering western winters. Early snow-melts could lead to severe water shortages in the state as over 80 percent of Wasatch Front’s water comes from snowmelt. Climate change threatens the Colorado’s ski and snowboarding industry. A low snowfall year costs the state an estimated $117 million and about 1800 jobs. Ice on Niwot Ridge and the adjacent Green Lakes Valley in the high mountains west of Colorado will continue to melt as the climate warms further.
- Wildfires: Climate change is exacerbating the ingredients that contribute to wildfires: heat, drought, and dead trees. These are expected to increase wildfires in Colorado. From 2003 to 2012, Colorado ranked seventh of 11 western states in number of wildfires and eighth in the area burnt. Going forward, wildfire management is expected to cost the state about $86.6 million.
- Pests: Warmer, drier conditions make forests more susceptible to pests because trees are less able to fend off attacks. The bark beetle, for example, has infested nearly half of Colorado’s forests and killed nearly five million lodgepole pines.
- Adaptation: On November 5, 2007, Governor Bill Ritter called on the state to prepare for and adapt to climate changes that cannot be avoided. On that date, the state released the Colorado Climate Action Plan: A Strategy to Address Global Warming. On April 22, 2008, Governor Ritter created the state’s Climate Change Advisory Panel and authorized the panel to make recommendations to achieve the goals of Colorado’s Climate Action Plan, including mechanisms for adaptation planning
Colorado residents support clean energy and climate regulations
- According to the Yale Map Project on Climate Change Communication 71% of Colorado residents recognize that global warming is happening. The project finds that 74% of residents support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and 83% support funding research into renewable energy sources.
Colorado is a leader in wind manufacturing and generation
- There are at least 15 wind manufacturing facilities in Colorado and contains the fourth highest number of wind manufacturing jobs in the country. Currently the state ranks 10th in the nation for wind generation, with 3,000 MW of capacity installed. That’s enough to power over 870,000 homes.
- Colorado ranks 11th in installed solar capacity, with 940 MW installed. The solar industry employs 6,000 people across 433 companies across the value chain.
- Colorado was the first state to establish a Renewable Portfolio Standard, which was challenged and deemed constitutional by the 10th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals last year. Colorado’s RPS requires 30% of electricity to be powered by renewable energy by 2020 for investor-owned utilities, 20% for large cooperatives (>100,000 customers) and 10% for small cooperatives and municipalities.
- Colorado’s vast fossil fuel resources include the Niobrara Shale, with resource estimates running as high as 2 billion barrels of oil.
- From 2005 to 2015, crude oil production in Colorado more than quadrupled; in the same period, marketed natural gas production rose 51%.