Recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency released two-page fact sheets about climate change in each of the 50 states.
Drawing on sources like the national climate assessments, the fact sheets don’t have new or breaking information. But they do provide a good overview for citizens and decision-makers who might be thinking about the future.
In New Mexico, for example:
In the coming decades, our changing climate is likely to decrease the flow of water in the Colorado, Rio Grande, and other rivers; threaten the health of livestock; increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires; and convert some rangelands to desert.
The fact sheet also lays out basic information for New Mexicans about declining snowpack, agricultural challenges, wildfire, and impacts to tribal communities.
And if you’re interested in understanding the economic consequences of climate change and future water scarcity (or uncertainty) in the state, this 2008 technical report from New Mexico State University does a good job examining some of the potential impacts, both direct and secondary, on New Mexico’s economy.
According to the report’s authors, under the most extreme projections, average agricultural water use will decline by 33% and result in an average economic hit of $82.6 million. Meanwhile, even if water use in the urban sector falls less than 2%, that would lead to estimated economic losses of $12 million (from a baseline value of $2.1 billion). Another direct loss in their model is an estimated $6.1 million for reservoir recreation.
Secondary economic effects are harder to quantify, but include things like the loss of green spaces associated with farms along the Rio Grande, increased soil salinity, the cost of maintaining water quality in streams and rivers that are lower and warmer, damage to infrastructure from floods, conflicts among water users, and ecological and cultural impacts.
The authors also point out some major uncertainties, including the cost of water transfers (as cities buy agricultural water rights, for example), respect for property rights, and the potential costs of conflict:
This is perhaps the most contentious and undervalued of all the omissions in the assessment. The modeling framework assumes neatly organized and efficiently functioning water markets in which buyers and sellers behave rationally and cooperatively with perfect information, foresight and knowledge. In actuality, the potential for significant economic and legal conflict is not only real but likely unavoidable and very difficult to measure a priori.
Which brings me back to my original point: Get the facts on what’s happening when it comes to climate change in New Mexico. That’ll help everyone down the road.