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Nov 02, 2013 09:38 AM EDT

Climate Change Will Significantly Deplete Salt Lake City's Water Supply for Every Degree Fahrenheit Risen

In Salt Lake City and its surrounding area, climate change is going to do more than just raise the temperatures, it will also affect water supply, according to new research.

For every degree Fahrenheit the average temperature rises, scientists predict a significant decline in the flow of streams that provide the city with water. Reported in a press release, scientists said the average decline in water flow for every degree added could be 1.8 percent to 6.5 percent.

This is expected to be a problem for multiple western cities, with many streams of water potentially drying up earlier than summer and fall by midcentury.

"Many snow-dependent regions follow a consistent pattern in responding to warming," said study co-author National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) scientist Andrew Wood. "But it's important to drill down further to understand the sensitivity of watersheds that matter for individual water supply systems."

The researchers' study was published Friday in the journal Earth Interactions. The study's findings should be helpful to cities looking to make long-term investments like water storage and other conservation policies.

"Many western water suppliers are aware that climate change will have impacts, but they don't have detailed information that can help them plan for the future," said lead author Tim Bardsley of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). "Because our research team included hydrologists, climate scientists, and water utility experts, we could dig into the issues that mattered most to the operators responsible for making sure clean water flows through taps and sprinklers without interruption."

CRIES is a joint institute with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado at Boulder, but also works closely with NCAR and the Salt Lake City Department of Public Health.

The study researchers used forecasting models from the NOAA that are meant to account for water stream-flow. In addition, the researchers used climate models that predict the change in temperature averages.

"We are using the findings of this sensitivity analysis to better understand the range of impacts we might experience under climate change scenarios," said co-author Laura Briefer, water resources manager at the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities. "This is the kind of tool we need to help us adapt to a changing climate, anticipate future changes, and make sound water-resource decisions."

(The author of this article fixed a typo in the headline that read "Sat Lake City" to "Salt Lake City.")

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