CONSERVATION AND SUSTAINABILITYClouds with a Silver Lining: Seeding Storms to Boost the Colorado River
People in seven western states and Mexico rely on the Colorado River for their water supplies. As the climate warms, the mighty river's flows are expected to shrink—straining its ability to meet demands of cities and farms. Water managers are bracing themselves for potential shortages and therefore keeping a watchful eye on Colorado's snowpack, where much of the water originates. More snow means more runoff—so many cities, water districts, and even ski areas are participating in a little-known program to "fire up" more snowflakes from winter storms.
THE CONFLUENCE: WATER, POLITICS,
A lot of water is moved from the western part of Colorado to the east where much of the state's population lives. Those diversions involve a complex system of pipes, reservoirs, pumps, and canals to keep the whole operation flowing. Setting aside the heated politics of moving resources from one basin to another, the conveyance of water under the Continental Divide is an engineering triumph, and in one case, for a couple living isolated in a high mountain valley, it's a "pipe dream" come true.
WATER AND SCIENCEDust Up: The Growing Problem Affecting Snowpack and Water Supply
Mountain snowfall around the globe is an important source of water. In the spring it melts and flows into rivers and reservoirs for cities and farms to use. But there’s been a growing problem that’s sweeping in and causing snowpack worldwide to melt faster. "It looks apocalyptic," says Jeff Deems, a research scientist at the University of Colorado. With "a big orange-red sky, it really does look Martian."
He’s describing dust storms—layers of windblown particles that are landing on mountain peaks and leaving them coated with a dark layer of sand and soot. As anyone who has sat in a car with black upholstery on hot summer day will attest, black objects absorb more heat than lighter ones, so by the darkening the snow, it’s melting it faster.
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