• Corinne E. Atton

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Report Assesses Climate Change Impacts to Water in the American West

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has published its 2021 SECURE Water Act Report, analyzing climate change impacts and projected risks to water supplies in the American West. This is the third 5-year report published by the Bureau, updating findings reported in 2011 and 2016.

The Bureau of Reclamation is a federal agency tasked with overseeing water resource management throughout the American West. The Bureau is the largest wholesaler of water in the U.S., delivering water for municipal, agricultural, tribal, and environmental water uses, including irrigation water to 140,000 farmers across 10 million acres of farmland.


The Bureau is also the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the U.S., supplying an average of 40 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity each year.


Key findings of the 2021 report include:


· Hydropower – hydropower is an important source of renewable energy that can add to the flexibility of the power grid. Hydropower production is facing challenges from longer, more severe droughts and floods, and from runoff occurring earlier in the year. Action is being taken to optimize hydropower generation, support operations under variable hydrologic conditions, and to improve cost-competitiveness.


· Water Deliveries – projected increases in temperature, decreases in snowpack, and runoff occurring earlier in the year are expected to make water supply less predictable and water deliveries more difficult to manage. Changing hydrology, including more frequent and severe droughts, and increased temperatures leading to evaporation losses and increased irrigation need, are expected to exacerbate water management challenges.


· Water Quality – warmer water temperatures, rising sea level, and more wildfires are expected to impact the health of ecosystems. Changes in precipitation and runoff will likely affect pollutant transport into and within water bodies; and wildfires will increase water quality issues.


· Ecological Resilience - warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation will affect the resilience of ecosystems in watersheds. More ecosystems are approaching, or crossing, resilience thresholds, and are changing in basic character.

(Image acknowledgement: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

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