Oct 04, 2021

Study Looks at the Impact of Drought in the West on Water Supplies

Researchers examined four decades’ worth of water samples from the Snake River in Colorado.

water quality

A recent study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology explored Western water supplies. 

Researchers examined four decades’ worth of samples from the Snake River in Colorado. According to the research, dwindling rainfall and a shrinking snowpack has reduced runoff to the river, so higher levels of rare earth elements are ending up in Colorado’s water supply.

The research determined that acid rock drainage challenges in mountain watersheds are being compounded by climate change.

“Recently, it has been demonstrated that this long-standing water quality challenge of acid mine drainage (AMD) is now potentially compounded by climate-change driven acceleration of natural acid rock drainage (ARD) in high elevation watersheds containing hydrothermally altered, pyritized bedrock where little or no mining has occurred,” states the study. 

AMD/ARD can constrain the potential use as a potable water supply and for commercial snowmaking, added the study. 

“It’s definitely the first (study) to link increasing concentrations of rare elements with climate change-driven changes in hydrology,” said study author Diane McKnight, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, reported High Country News. “I don’t know of any other study that really looks at what’s the pattern of rare earth elements in a watershed at the scale of the Snake River, going all the way down to the drinking water supply.”

Even more, lower water flow and warming water temperatures have proliferated issues such as toxic algae blooms and massive fish die-offs.

Rare elements occur naturally as a group of 17 metallic elements and studies show that they are toxic to small aquatic organisms and microbes, reported The Las Vegas Sun. Nevertheless, researchers are unsure about whether or not that toxicity extends to humans, according to lead author Garrett Rue, who was a master’s student at University of Colorado Boulder when the research was conducted.

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