My story this morning on the changes measured in the Boise River system over the last 100 years and the increasing climatic variability has attracted a lot of comments particularly from readers who think there is still a debate about whether rapid climate change is taking place, and that it is a debate between the right and the left.
No matter what you or I think is going on, the people who manage natural resource systems like rivers and forests have to deal with the conditions they see. These include state and federal land and water managers and the scientists who back them up by monitoring the system they try to control.
I spoke with many in the last few days, and they don’t all agree with the extent of the changes or even, in some cases, the permanence of the direction of change. None had anything to say about what society might need to do to reverse it. Instead, they all were looking at ways they must adapt to the obvious changes in the systems they study and manage.
Peter Brooks, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chief of the hydrologic engineering and power branch of the Columbia Basin Water Management Division in Portland, outlined his relatively conservative agency’s read of the changes they see in the Pacific Northwest and possible steps they can take to adapt in response to my question:
Idaho Statesman: Describe how the Corps believes climate change has affected the flows of the Boise River and the Snake River and what the agency expects in the future based on the scientific forecasts of climate scientists regionally and internationally.
Peter Brooks:“Within the Pacific Northwest there are undeniable changes to the hydrologic system that are likely to continue. These include alterations to the types of precipitation that falls including a shift from snowfall to rain as well as earlier snowmelt runoff in the Spring.
A reaction to that might be to evacuate reservoirs earlier than done now in anticipation of the earlier start to the spring runoff. Evacuating less is probably not a prudent flood risk management strategy because even though overall volumes seem to remain unchanged (based on preliminary analysis of the 2007 International Panel on Climate Change data set) the portion of the seasonal runoff volume historically provided by rain will increase making real-time forecasting more difficult and less predictable.
Therefore reservoirs may need more space available than in the past to accommodate an even wider variability of hydrologic events that has been to date."
The idea that we might need to build more reservoirs is coming from Republican leaders in Idaho, not Democrats, even though it likely means the government is going to have to get involved. Environmentalists are pushing alternatives to new dams.
The science that has driven and dominated this debate is the psychology of persuasion. The Heartland Institute an organization that has led the climate skepticism campaign, pushed its case recently with billboards showing the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson and Fidel Castro as examples of people who believe in global warming.
But it is not surprising that with the most famous promoter of climate science, Al Gore, a former Democratic candidate for President, many Republicans would see the issue in partisan terms.