Our near future may see worse wildfires, severe droughts or the loss of an entire ecosystem. And, on top of that, holidays won’t be the same if you can’t take a trip to your favorite ski resort or enjoy a white holiday. This could become a quick reality if snowfall keeps reducing to a point of no snow at all.
In 2017, it snowed a total of 600 inches. By 2020, the snowfall had reduced to around 180 inches. A new study found that snow covers across the mountains in the Western U.S. have been rapidly decreasing, which will have major effects on the state’s water resources.
The Nature Reviews Earth and Environment paper predicts an alarming future with no snowfall in the West. The paper suggests that if the earth’s greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current pace, winters with very little or no snow could become reality in the next 30 years.
Snowpacks on the western mountains serve as natural storage reservoirs for water in the form of snow. The snow eventually melts into rivers or streams, creating a water supply. If there is extremely low or no snow at all, there may be dangerous ramifications in an already drought-induced California. Those could include a shortage in drinking water, potential state restrictions on water usage for residents and increased pumping of groundwater for agriculture because of a reduction in surface water. According to a study in the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management, the additional pumping costs could amount to approximately $600 million per year.
Expert in water climate change and professor at USC Robin Craig said there will be a cascading impact of the diminishing snowfall.
“You’re going to have aquatic ecosystems get warmer and then maybe dry up entirely, so that’s going to hurt already endangered species and it’s going to create some more aquatic endangered species,” Craig said.
But the impact on aquatic life is not the only concern if snowcaps keep shrinking.
“It might start affecting the coast as well because a lot of the water in California flows to estuaries, which tend to be very important and productive ecosystems for fisheries, among other things,” Craig said. “And so it can have cascading impacts, obviously, that’s going to limit the water supply for drinking water and it’s going to limit water supply for agriculture.”
Seeing ‘low snow’ is defined as snow cover that falls within the lower 30th percentile of its historical peak, whereas ‘no snow’ is snow cover that falls in the lower 10th percentile. The study predicts that by 2060, places that historically have had snowfall might see little or no snow for five consecutive years. “That’s likely to mean that in years when California gets rain at all, which is not all years, we’re going to have flooding in the early spring, and then absolutely no water all summer and fall,” Craig said.
The study predicts there will be “an increasing fraction of the western U.S. that is impacted by snow water equivalent deficits relative to the historical period.”
As snow levels continue to dwindle, the impact on the water crisis will be imminent, according to Craig. She mentioned that California has already been planning for drought and has been aware of the declining snowpacks, leading to long-term water planning.
However, there are small actions that individuals can take to conserve water.
“There is a lot people can do. You can buy water-efficient appliances, you can watch your daily water use or you can put in a landscape that doesn’t require constant watering,” Craig said. “You can be careful about your energy because a lot of water is used in energy production.”
As students, here are a few ways in which you can save water in everyday use.