Report: Climate change makes various Colorado industries vulnerable

Colorado industries ranging from agriculture to energy to tourism to education all face unique threats from climate change in the coming decades, according to a new report released Wednesday by the University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado State University and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

The report, titled “The Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study,” was commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office as one of the requirements of House Bill 1293 passed in 2013 that declared climate change presents various ongoing threats to the state.

Average annual temperatures in Colorado have risen 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, according to the report. They’re expected to continue that climb, particularly in summertime. While winter precipitation is expected to increase by mid-century, earlier snowmelt due to warming is expected to lead to earlier spring runoff and lower late-summer stream flows. Heat waves, wildfires and droughts are projected to increase in frequency and intensity.

For Colorado’s $24 billion per year agriculture sector, the report states that those changes will make crop yields more vulnerable to reductions due to heat stress and leave producers with junior water rights more vulnerable to increasing swings in annual precipitation amounts.

The energy sector, too, could face increased competition for water supplies and face grid stress and system instability as air conditioning demand increases in the state.

In transportation, higher temperatures could mean increased road maintenance costs due to heat-related problems, while rail lines would also be faced with the costs of installing more heat-resistant tracks.

As for outdoor recreation and tourism, the changes could bring both positive and negative changes depending on the activity. But the commercial rafting industry is one that could face a reduced season length due to earlier and quicker snow runoff. And the report cited all summertime recreation activities as being more vulnerable to wildfires.

“We also know vulnerabilities change over time, as environmental and socio-economic conditions change,” said Dennis Ojima, one of the report’s lead co-authors and a professor in the Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Department at Colorado State University. “It will be important to keep an eye on this changing landscape of vulnerability.”