Climate Change Means Less Sierra Nevada Runoff

Sep 2, 2014

file photo
Credit Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

A new study from UC Irvine shows climate change could reduce California’s water supply by changing mountain vegetation. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, even researchers were surprised how much could be lost.

Climate models show that temperatures in California’s Sierra Nevada are expected to climb four degrees Celsius by 2100. Those temperatures could lead to more tree and plant growth at higher elevations, which would suck up more water like a sponge.  The result is a 26 percent drop in water that would normally flow into rivers. Michael Goulden is a professor of Earth System Science and co-author of the study.

 Goulden: “We don’t really know how fast the vegetation can move up slope that’s probably the big, probably the biggest caveat of our analysis.”

Goulden says the study is a worst-case scenario. It doesn’t take into account any future forest management that could change the extent of the problem.