Wyoming Spring Creek: Climate Change and Water Conservation

If you ever ask what Wyoming’s most precious natural resource is you will predictably be answered by a chorus of responses citing its wealth of oil, coal, and natural gas stores, but in truth its most precious resource is water. One look around the semi-arid landscape and any doubt of what governs life out west evaporates. Green clusters greedily around streams and valleys as the rest of the landscape fades outward into a dull beige olive color, settlements are built around rivers and railroads. The state’s water systems, 70% of which comes from snowpack and spring melt, provide major headwaters that help feed four major river basins throughout the western United States such as the Missouri-Mississippi, Green-Colorado, Snake-Columbia, and Great Salt Lake basins. In the future these precious water supplies are endangered by the effects of anthropogenic climate change as the already harsh climate of the American West is projected to become hotter, drier, and more extreme. 

For my project I decided to forgo field research and ask; As the American West’s snowpack and water supply is imperiled by anthropogenic climate change, how do local communities and urban centers adapt to become more drought resistant into the future? I wanted to dig into these projected trends and what it means for the urban centers of Southeast Wyoming, such as the city of Laramie by analyzing broad past and projected trends in snowpack, annual precipitation, and temperature. In order to do this I mainly evaluated scientific reports, local weather trends, snowpack and stream records as well as climate reports from national and international organizations such as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and National Climate Assessment by the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). Once I built a foundational understanding of the climate change trends impacts looming in the future I examined the climate readiness and current conditions of this region by investigating the agricultural, industrial, and residential water usage and local conservation initiatives to preserve the state water sources. Armed with this information, I attempted to elucidate the particular vulnerability of urban centers and conurbation, formulate water usage reduction strategies at both individual and large scale levels, discuss water reuse and reclamation technologies, and consider possible socio-political and economic boundaries that will have to be overcome to implement more environmentally resilient and adaptable water conservation infrastructure to combat the water stress and scarcity of climate change in the future.

A lake created by spring snow melt in the Snowy Mountain Range.

Leave a Reply