Colorado parks and cities prepare for changing weather

COLORADO SPRINGS – Monster hurricanes associated with climate change once again have hammered the southeastern coast of the United States. New federal research finds water is also likely to cause havoc in landlocked states such as Colorado.

“More run-off, more rain, more snow,” says U.S. Geologic Survey research hydrologist William Battaglin.

“As temperatures go up, there will also be an increase in precipitation – in the fall months, as much as 1.5 inches per day,” says Battaglin. His findings are the result of  a study on how global warming will effect Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the state’s most beloved landscapes.

Using predicted global temperature trends, Battaglin looked to current climatic data to show how changing weather patterns might affect the park. The study aimed to help park managers deal with environmental changes.

More rain and higher temperatures may radically reshape the environmentally sensitive ecosystems in national parks, say Battaglin. Large scale flooding and mudslides, for example, could destroy wildlife habitat,

“There have always been [temperature] changes on a global scale,” says Battaglin. “But rapid temperature increases give species less time to adapt.”

Changes in precipitation are expected to create problems in Colorado’s cities as well. Battaglin has been working with city planners to guide the development of better stormwater infrastructure, replicating natural processes by slowing water flows.

Controlling the runoff in urban channels allows for sediment and pollutants to settle out of the water, and reduces the amount of destructive erosion.

Battaglin says that urbanization can increase the negative impact of higher precipitation levels. The paving materials used for buildings, roads, and rooftops are impermeable, forcing storm water to quickly drain down into channels rather than filter through the ground.

In order to address this, Battaglin says, many cities are now requiring the construction of rain gardens and retention ponds as an attempt to offset the impact of new construction.

Monument Creek swells with late summer storm runoff through downtown Colorado Springs.
PHOTO: David Sachs

A Colorado College geodesign team is exploring how to best adapt to the changing climate – focusing on Monument Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River, flowing through downtown Colorado Springs.

“Increased discharge in urban creeks can cause a lot of damage,” says Rundquist. He cites issues ranging from the destruction of property, to elevated amounts of bacteria causing a public health problem.

An ongoing lawsuit filed by the city of Pueblo against Colorado Springs, claims that the state of the water being delivered is in violation of cities’ water agreement.

“You get farmers downstream who are losing their land to this huge amount of polluted fluvial sediment from the city,” says Rundquist. “It’s bad for everyone.”

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