Peak Water

9360202804_51a2a20832_oBy Lee Anna Sherman

Oregon is warming, and snow is waning. The clear, clean water that supplies many of Oregon’s cities and farms originates high in the Cascades. Stored on snowy peaks, the water feeds rivers and aquifers that supply some of the state’s most populous regions.

In one key watershed, the McKenzie, snowpack is predicted to drop more than half by mid-century, OSU researchers project. This determination, based on a temperature increase just over 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, could hold dire implications for similar “low-elevation maritime snow packs” across the globe. That’s because even small increases in temperature can flip precipitation from snow to rain.

“This is not an issue that will just affect Oregon,” says OSU researcher Anne Nolin, who co-authored the study with Ph.D. student Eric Sproles. “You may see similar impacts almost anywhere around the world that has low-elevation snow in mountains, such as in Japan, New Zealand, Northern California, the Andes Mountains, a lot of Eastern Europe and the lower-elevation Alps.”