The effects of climate change are real and should be considered by officials formulating the state's 50-year plan for water usage and supply, the state's top climate official said Thursday. Oklahoma can expect to see longer hot spells, more frequent heat waves and short periods of cold weather, state climatologist Ken Crawford told attendees at the Governor's Water Conference and Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute. Prolonged heat waves and dry periods will put additional stress on Oklahoma's water resources, Crawford said. The Oklahoma Climatological Survey released its statement on climate change this week as water planning officials met to discuss the state's future water needs. Using Oklahoma weather data dating to 1896 and information from an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the state's climate-tracking agency cautioned against ignoring the effects of a warming globe. "Mounting evidence continues to indicate ... that human activities have begun to impact the earth's climate through the release of greenhouse gases,” the report states. "Even if greenhouse gas concentrations were held steady since the year 2000, the earth is committed to decades of warming from heat already absorbed by the oceans.” While the cause of global warming may be politicized, its effects are not, Crawford said. "With as much heated debate that's out there, we thought we ought to at least take a stand and weed through the riff-raff,” Crawford said. "We wanted to present this in understandable terms so people who are out there making policy are informed.” Oklahoma will still have variable weather patterns, like hot years and cold years, but over a 10-year period the state could see increased droughts and more severe dry spells, Crawford said. Unlike some Western states, Oklahoma has an ample supply of water, but the state's population is expected to grow by nearly a million people in the next 50 years. At the same time, warmer temperatures and longer drought periods will increase the need for watering and irrigation, putting more stress on the state's water resources, Crawford said. There may be less water available as warmer temperatures cause water year-round to evaporate. During warmer weather, plants will also emit valuable moisture into the atmosphere. When that happens, plants need to be watered more frequently. Another effect of climate change is the longer growing season that will come as prolonged cold periods fall away. This could affect Oklahoma's winter wheat and orchard crops that may mature more quickly and be susceptible to damage from late frosts, Crawford said. Storms in Oklahoma could also be more severe as there is more water in the atmosphere. The risk of flash flooding and heavy storms could increase, Crawford said. Officials hashing out the state's water plan, which is expected to be finalized by 2011, need to take these factors into account, Crawford said. "Sustainability must be the foundation in planning for the state's future,” Crawford said. "We must exercise extreme due diligence. All policies must be developed with a full understanding of the bank account of the water resources available to us.”Comments
Lawmakers pledge foresight in planningWhile a plan for Oklahoma's water use is in the works, lawmakers are at a point to enact laws or policies that could affect the state's water supply. Lawmakers with key roles in committees that draft policy on resources also spoke at the conference. State Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said water and good water management will continue to be a priority in the Legislature.
What climate change could mean•Warmer summers, heat waves and extremes. •Increased frequency and severity of drought. •Increased risk for wildfires with prolonged periods of hot and dry weather. •Warmer summers will bring a longer growing season. Crops will mature quicker, leaving them more vulnerable to late freezes. •Increased precipitation intensity. •Increased risk of flooding. •Increased need for watering/irrigation. Source: Oklahoma Climatological Survey