From today’s newspaper, a look at decision-making in the face of uncertainty on the Colorado River:
Trying to follow the science of climate change and the Colorado River, it would be easy to throw up your hands. Very smart scientists (Hoerling among them) have come up with very different answers about how climate change might affect the Colorado over the next half-century.
Estimates over the past few years have varied from a modest 5 percent decrease in the river’s average annual flow by 2050 to an alarming 45 percent decline.
OK, even a 5 percent drop in the Colorado’s average annual flow ought to alarm you. “With over 27 million people relying on the Colorado River for drinking water in the United States, and over 3.5 million acres of farmland in production in the basin,” U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials wrote in a recent report, “the Colorado River is the single most important natural resource in the Southwest.”
It would be easy to get frustrated by the uncertainty, even after new studies have reduced the range of uncertainty to a decline of between 5 percent and 20 percent.
Welcome to real science, where nature offers up answers only grudgingly, not like the tidy answers to settled questions you find in textbooks.