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Study shows groundwater flowing into Colorado River could decrease by a third in next 30 years

Melodie Edwards
The new report predicts the worst groundwater declines at the headwaters of Wyoming's Green River.

A recent study shows that groundwater could decrease by a third in the Colorado River Basin in the next 30 years due to climate change. That’s a big deal since baseflow – or water flowing out of the ground into streams – accounts for over half of the streamflow in the upper Colorado River, supplying ecosystems and people across eight states.

Olivia Miller, the lead researcher on the study,csaid they examined three possible scenarios: one in which the future becomes hotter and drier, another where it becomes hotter but wetter, and a third that’s in between. In all cases, she said, the models show steep declines.

“Because it's warmer, we're going to lose more water to evapotranspiration, plants are going to use water, just additional heat transferring water to the atmosphere,” Miller said. “And so, a wetter future is not necessarily like, ‘Oh, we're fine.' You know, we're still gonna have changes to this water system that we need to think about when we're planning how to manage our water resources.”

Miller said, groundwater is an often overlooked factor in considering our climate future.

“Groundwater is vulnerable to climate change because the whole water cycle is so closely linked to the climate system. The water cycle, it's that precipitation and temperature that is our climate system.”

Miller predicts the steepest declines in groundwater will be from the headwaters of the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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