Senate Hearing in Santa Fe Paints a Dark Picture of Climate Change Impacts in Southwest

Apr 27, 2011

Santa Fe, NM – A key federal agency that manages water supplies around the US has come out with a report that paints a dark picture of the impacts of climate change in the West. The predictions were presented in a field hearing for the Senate Energy Committee in Santa Fe on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. The hearing was arranged by New Mexico Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman, who chairs the committee.

The Bureau of Reclamation report confirms what the scientific community has primarily been saying: temperatures will continue to rise, and droughts will become more frequent and more severe in the US Southwest. Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona, told Bingaman that scientists have been watching the storm track shift away from the Southwest at an unexpected rate.

"And we're not sure why," Overpeck said. "But it appears that Mother Nature, this movement north is occurring at a faster rate than the models suggest it should be. And that could be because the compounding influence of stratospheric ozone depletion, or it could be a lack of sensitivity in the climate models to the greenhouse gases."

Overpeck stressed that if the trend continues, New Mexico's snowpacks will be greatly reduced in coming years, deepening the state's drought. New Mexico State Climatologist David Dubois said the last three months were the state's second driest since records have been taken, and also stressed that there needs to be more information-sharing of on-the-ground measurements between farmers and policymakers. Bingaman said he wasn't surprised by the severity of the reports he heard.

"I think it further confirmed the impression that I have developed over several years which is that we have a serious issue dealing with the climate which we have yet to adequately wake up to or address," said Bingaman.

The Bureau of Reclamation report on the climate is available at USBR.gov