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Amidst a 20 year drought, UW awarded $20 million to study climate-driven water supply changes 

Ken Kistler / Public Domain

University of Wyoming (UW) researchers have been awarded a five-year, $20 million federal grant from the National Science Foundation to study climate change and its effects on the state’s water supply.

Much of Wyoming has experienced moderate to severe drought since 1999, which has led to reduced snowpack levels. Wyoming is considered the fifth driest state in the nation.

“We're seeing drawdowns of our reservoirs in Wyoming,” David Williams, a lead researcher on the team, said, “because of reduced water supply from snowmelt, increased demand, and higher rates of evaporation because of warming temperatures over the last 50 to 60 years.”

Williams said the focus will be in headwater communities – like those near the Snake River, Green River, Colorado River and Bighorn River. He added that the team will look at current and future water supplies, and what kind of socioeconomic impacts from a reduction in water might have on locals.

“The end goals are to lay the foundation for communities to make the best decisions about how to manage their changing water supplies in the future,” he said.

How Wyoming manages its water in a warming climate will affect much of the southwest. Wyoming is a key contributor to the Colorado River Basin – which provides water to about 40 million people in seven states. Studies show that water levels in the Colorado River have dropped 20 percent since the 1900s, and nearly half of the decline is a result of climate change.

Work has already begun on the UW research project. Williams said they are beginning in the western region of the state.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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