This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Winter descended early on Colorado this year, bringing snow to the state’s tallest peaks days after Labor Day. But dry conditions continue to haunt the state’s ranchers: Last winter, the San Juan Mountains received just 50 percent of their normal snowpack. By the time summer rolled around, grazing pasture was scarce, and some ranchers were forced to sell cattle they couldn’t afford to feed. “To see them be loaded on the truck just brings tears,” La Plata County rancher Barbara Jefferies told a reporter in June.
Snow that accumulates on mountaintops across the western United States in the winter flows into the region’s irrigation systems and reservoirs during the rest of the year, and supplies drinking water to much of the region. This resource is taking a hit from climate change: Between the 1980s and the 2000s, the amount of water in the snowpack declined by 10 to 20 percent annually. Research published in the journal Nature Communications last year projects an additional loss of up to 60 percent before 2050.
Some municipalities are now hopi... Read more