12:46pm

Thu September 20, 2012
Drought

Drought, Climate Change Posing Threats to Colorado Economy

This year’s stubborn drought and the changing climate will have serious consequences for Colorado’s multi-billion dollar recreation and farming industries, as well as the state’s forests that have seen severe, un-naturally large wildfires recently. 

Those are just a two of the takeaways from a two-day statewide drought conference that's wrapping up Thursday in Denver. 

Thursday morning, Colorado water managers, policy experts and decision makers got some advice from a nearby state that was in our position last year – Texas. 

Mike Bewley of that state’s Division of Emergency Management headed response efforts to one of the worst droughts to hit the Lonestar State since the 1950s that led to water rationing, ranchers being forced to sell off their cattle herds, wildfires.

Sound familiar?

"Everyone knows we built the West during a 25 year wet period."

"This is a problem for the western United States," Bewley said. "Everyone knows we built the West during a 25 year wet period, I heard someone say the other day ‘we haven’t had normal rainfall in Texas in 15 years,’ and I’m like, well maybe that’s not normal anymore."

Texas was first through the door, but not the last, Bewley warned.

"If you’re in the western United States, it’s coming your way, it’s just my opinion, my gut feeling, I have no scientific basis to say that, but it’s coming," he said. 

Plenty of climatologists meeting here do have the science to back Bewley’s hunch up, but the real question now, according to Bewley, is how to tackle the problem, how to, as he put it, "manage the unimaginable. 

For starters, Bewley called for more collaboration among states, which could pool more resources and expertise.

He warned against waiting for the federal government to act. 

Though this week, the Obama Administration announced nearly $12 million in drought assistance to farmers and ranchers nationwide.

State officials at the conference said Colorado’s eastern plains, where farms and ranches proliferate the land, remained one of the most vulnerable areas to the prolonged drought.

Follow KUNC's Kirk Siegler on Twitter @KirkSiegler.

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