“Vulnerability is not just a question of how climate change will affect resources in the state, it’s also a question of how well Colorado is prepared to deal with changes.”
Eric Gordon with CIRES Western Water Assessment at CU Boulder is the co-lead editor of a new report, “The Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study,” which was commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office in accordance with the Colorado Legislature’s House Bill 13-1293. It’s a sector-by-sector analysis of the challenges that state residents and leaders will have to deal with in coming decades. It also details many of the ways Coloradans are already grappling with these issues, and where other strategies may help mitigate risk.
Sea-level rise may not be eating away at Colorado’s borders, but climate change exposes other critical vulnerabilities in the state, reveals the report. Rising temperatures likely will take a toll on cattle and crops, for example, and could more often leave junior water rights holders with little water and few options.
In the public health sector, Colorado may see more incidents of infectious diseases, the report notes, and the elderly and people living in poverty are especially vulnerable. Climate change impacts on public health are complex and difficult to anticipate, but rising temperatures could mean more frequent episodes of unhealthy air quality and more common heatstroke, West Nile Virus, plague and hantavirus.
For perspective, hotter states such as Florida and Arizona are also dealing with the invasion of diseases typically not seen in the continental United States, such as dengue fever.
“Colorado is lucky to avoid certain diseases that affect hotter areas,” Gordon said, “but we are vulnerable to increases in those we already have here, especially West Nile Virus.”
Temperatures in Colorado have been rising, especially in summer, and that trend is expected to continue, along with increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts and wildfire. Public schools in many Front Range cities are vulnerable to these changes, the report notes. Historically, schools in the state have not needed cooling, so many do not have air-conditioned classrooms. “These rising temperatures have exposed a major vulnerability that could potentially be very expensive to address,” the report notes.