The latest from the wacky (and worrisome) weather files: today’s Tri-City Herald reports that the Columbia River’s flow is between a fifth and a quarter below average, raising worries of an impending drought this summer.
As always, low flow in Cascadia’s biggest hydrological artery means conflict between farmers (who need irrigation water), electricity ratepayers (who get a price break by selling hydropower to the Southwest), and salmon (who just can’t live without the wet stuff). The economic costs of a drought can be daunting—as the west coast’s electricity crisis in 2001 made abundantly clear.
It is impossible to say for certain that the Columbia’s low flow is the result of climate change. But it is also worth noting that low river flow—which, in the spring and summer, is the direct consequence of low snowpack—is precisely what the Northwest’s scientific experts predict to result from global warming. So even if 2005’s nascent drought is not induced by climate change, it is exactly the sort of thing we can expect under warming conditions—which is just one more piece of evidence that the time is past for a "wait and see" approach to climate change.