The Colorado River Basin is enduring two decades of drought, and water shortages are on the horizon. But scientists say this isn’t the worst-case scenario. The region has undergone longer, deeper droughts in the past. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with paleoclimatologist Matt Lachniet of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas about how knowing the past can help us plan for a warmer, drier future.
Tell me about how this current drought compares to droughts that the region has seen in the past.
Well, we know from tree ring records that go back the last 1,500 years or so, that nature is capable is giving us droughts that last for 10, 15 years or so, and some of them were pretty severe, similar to what we’re seeing today…. But there’s a fundamental difference, and that fundamental difference is that climate is warming in the Southwest and regionally… Warming climate means less of that rainfall falls as snow. It means more evaporation from the reservoirs, and it means the plants themselves are using more water.