Considering its importance, the “Secure Water Act Report,” released a few months ago by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, received little notice. This despite the fact it projects temperatures in the West to rise by 5°F to 7°F by the end of the century.
That’s an awful lot, especially when you consider nearly all scientists are alarmed by the fact that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increased from 280 parts per million in the late 1700s to today’s level of about 400 ppm. This “Greenhouse Effect” has raised average global temperatures by about 0.8°C since 1900. That equates to about 1.5°F, or about one-fourth of the average change predicted for the West in the coming 84 years.
The report also projects a decrease for almost all of the April 1 snowpack, a standard benchmark measurement used to project river basin runoff, and a 7% to 27% decrease in April to July stream flow in several river basins, including the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and the San Joaquin.
“One of the greatest challenges we face is dealing with the impacts of climate change on our nation’s water, which is really the lifeblood of our economy,” Interior’s Deputy Secretary Michael Connor said upon the report’s release. “We need to continue to develop collaborative strategies across each river basin to ensure our nation’s water supplies, agricultural activities, ecosystems, and other resources all have sustainable paths forward.”
East Sees Wild Fluctuations
But global warming is clearly not a problem limited to the West. What fruit grower can forget the late winter/early spring of 2012, when it was so warm that many apple trees across the Midwest and Northeast bloomed about a month early, only to be hit with normal to subnormal temperatures in April? Michigan’s crop was nearly wiped out, and other states sustained huge losses.
More recently, this year’s New England peach crop was erased by the “Valentine’s Day Massacre,” when temperatures dipped well below zero.
USDA’s William Graham was recently quoted as saying he visited one orchard with 14 acres of peaches where the grower had counted at total of four blossoms. “I can’t remember the last time we experienced such a complete loss of an entire crop,” Graham said.
To address these issues, Cornell University has launched the Climate Smart Farming program, a voluntary initiative designed to help growers in not just New York but the Northeast at large.
The program aims to increase agricultural productivity and sustainability, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production, and increase farm resiliency to extreme weather and climate variability through adoption of best management practices for climate change adaptation.
It’s ambitious, with research and Extension specialists helping growers institute best management practices including cropping systems, IPM, land-use planning, and water resource management.
A big part of the effort will be in upgrading infrastructure, such as cooling, irrigation, drainage, and waste management systems for increased resiliency. They also seek to increase farm energy efficiency and install renewable energy systems on the farm, which can contribute to cost savings.