Climate

Colorado farmland flooded after a severe storm

In Colorado, climate change presents a broad range of challenges.

Colorado has warmed substantially in the last 30 years and even more over the last 50 years. Future estimates project temperatures rising an additional 2.5 °F to 5 °F by 2050. This means the warmest summers from our past may become the average summers in our future. With increasing temperatures come shifts in snowmelt runoff, water quality concerns, stressed ecosystems and transportation infrastructure, impacts to energy demands, and extreme weather events that can impact air quality and recreational opportunities.

The challenges we face will affect everyone. However, because it can enhance existing stressors, it has a disproportionate negative impact on more vulnerable populations due to social, political, and economic inequalities. Addressing the impacts of climate change will require collaborative solutions.

Colorado is committed to assisting climate adaptation for all individuals, in all communities.

 

Climate Change is Water Change
Summary of Future Climate

Warmer Temperatures

  • Current climate models project that Colorado will warm by 2.5°F by 2025 and 4°F by 2050. Summers are likely to warm more than winters.
  • Warmer temperatures will affect evaporation rates in our rivers, streams and reservoirs, perhaps making less water available for beneficial use.

Seasonal Precipitation Shifts

  • A projected seasonal shift in precipitation may result in more mid-winter precipitation throughout the state and, in some areas, a decrease in late spring and summer precipitation.
  • Lower elevation snowpack (below 8200 ft.) is likely to decline, with modest declines projected for high elevation snowpack (above 8200 ft.).
  • The timing of runoff is projected to shift earlier in the spring, which may reduce late summer stream flows. Runoff timing changes will likely occur regardless of changes in precipitation.
Incorporating Future Climate into Scenario Planning

The Technical Update to the Water Plan, released in July 2019, embeds considerations of climate change in our state's future water supply study for the first time. Three of the five planning scenarios examined in the study include assumptions related to a hotter and drier future climate (scenarios titled: Cooperative Growth, Adaptive Innovation, and Hot Growth). The other two planning scenarios (Business as Usual and Weak Economy) assume similar climate conditions and variability to the observed conditions of the 20th century compared to historical natural flows for the period 1950–2013). Projections of future climate conditions were not a part of previous statewide supply studies (e.g. SWSI 2010) and can have a significant influence on hydrology, water use, and estimated supply-demand gaps.

A detailed explanation of the methodology can be found in Volume 2 of the Tech Update. More detailed explanations of climate impacts around Colorado can be found in several documents such as the Colorado Climate Plan (2018), Colorado Water Plan (2015), Colorado River State of the Science Report (2020) and the foundational work of the multi-phase Colorado River Water Availability Study (2019).

History of Colorado Studies and Reports 

Explore More

Colorado Climate Plan
(Exec Summary, Full PDF 2018)

Colorado Resiliency Framework
(Full PDF, 2015)

Colorado River State of the Science Report
(Coming summer 2020)

Colorado River Water Availability Study, Phase II
(Full PDF, 2019)

Climate Change in Colorado Report
(Full PDF, Exec Summary, 2014)

Climate Definitions

Interactive Explorer Coming Soon: Spring 2020
Costs of Climate Change: Examining the economic impacts of flood, fire, and drought

Point of Contact

Megan Holcomb