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UW Stroock Forum to Focus on Climate Change, Water Management

September 18, 2008

Wyoming State Climatologist Steve Gray has a prediction about the future of the state's climate: "We're going to be living in a warmer Wyoming," he says.

As biting as the winters are in the Cowboy State, you may think that's good news.

It's not.

"There's going to be more intense droughts than what we've experienced in the past, more heat waves and more drier days," says Gray, citing forecast models and scientific consensus. "All of those factors are going to put an increase on water demand, both domestically and for irrigation, and, as a state, we need to develop solutions to face the challenges of the future."

The changing face of Wyoming's climate will be the focus of the 2008 fall Stroock Forum on Wyoming Lands and People Monday, Sept. 22, at the University of Wyoming College of Arts and Sciences auditorium. The conference, set for 1-5 p.m., is free and open to the public.

The four keynote presenters at "Climate Change and Water Management: In the West and in Wyoming" -- including Gray, who also works as an associate research scientist in the UW Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and as director of the Wyoming Water Resources Data System -- will provide an overview of the region's climatic future and discuss the potential effects of rising temperatures.

Ben Bracken, general manager of the Rock Springs-Green River Joint Powers Water Board and another of the keynote presenters, sees the forum as a prime opportunity to help educate the people of Wyoming.

"The reliable and dependable delivery of water supports both the health and economic base of our communities, but our biggest issue is that water is out of sight, out of mind, until there's a crisis," Bracken says. "What we all have to understand is that the weather is unpredictable and change (in the weather) is normal. We have to be able to embrace and deal with that change."

He adds, "We can't wait for the crisis. That's why it's important for us to talk now and create solutions for the future."

Larry MacDonnell, a visiting professor in the UW College of Law and author of "From Reclamation to Sustainability: Water, Agriculture, and the Environment in the American West," a 1999 book that examines the many issues of water management in the western United States, and Brad Udall, director of the Colorado-based Western Water Assessment (WWA), will also make presentations at the forum.

The goal of the WWA, a joint effort of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Laboratory, is to provide information about natural climate variability and human-caused climate change.

The forum is sponsored by the William D. Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources and the Stroock Professorship.

"I think people are going to take away two things from this forum. The first is a very stark warning that business as usual, in terms of water management, is out the window. But, secondly, they're going to hear a cause for optimism," Gray says. "That's because we know there's a problem and we can start generating solutions to adapt to the challenges we're facing now and that we'll face in the future."

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