Arizona: the bull’s-eye of climate change

November 18, 2013, 3:30 pm

JohnShepardClimateConversation_featured_image500pxOn the heels of the recent released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of University of Arizona climate experts came together to discuss the report’s implications for the state.

One of them noted that, “Here in Arizona, we are in the bull’s-eye of climate change.” Arizona, they added, is warming faster than almost anywhere else, while snowpack-dependent river flows that feed cities like Phoenix and Tucson are projected to decrease.

These dire predictions brought to mind a number conversations I’ve had recently with others who live in Tucson.  Sometimes furtive, tinged with a sense of guilt, they center around the question: How long do you expect to live in Tucson?  Given my age (I’m 54), the question boils down to whether my wife, Carol, and I will retire in Tucson.

Future water availability, the decade-long drought we are experiencing, and climate change are the concerns driving this question.  More than 60% of Tucson’s water comes from the Colorado River, courtesy of the Central Arizona Project canal, which in turn comes from the aforementioned snowpack in the Rockies.  Before tapping into the Colorado River, Tucson was almost entirely dependent on groundwater deposited over millennia.

Colorado River water was thought to be a sustainable alternative for Tucson.  The ongoing drought has called that into question, reinforced by the possibility a federal shortage declaration in 2016 that would trigger cutbacks among river water users in seven states and Mexico. Add the uncertainties about future climate change impacts on the river, and it is understandable that some Tucsonans start to get nervous.

Which brings me back to thinking about retiring in Tucson.  As a confirmed desert rat, I don’t see moving away from here.  I have a broad community of friends.  Furthermore, while Tucson has made great strides in reducing water use, I know we are capable of doing more.

Though I’m not sure I want to be in any bull’s-eye, I am okay being a proverbial lab rat in the desert in the grand experiment that is climate change.

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John Shepard

John Shepard

An environmentalist, John Shepard has lived with his family in Tucson, Arizona, since 1995 . His work takes him throughout the American West and Northwest Mexico, giving him a first-hand look at how climate change is impacting the region’s landscapes and communities.

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