Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nobel-Winner: Climate Change Threatens California Water Supply

070514-sierra-getty.jpg

A Nobel-prize winning scientist says global climate change threatens California's water supply. The lack of snowpack in the state's tallest mountain range could cause a water crisis by the end of the

Nobel-Winner: Climate Change Threatens California Water Supply

(Photo: The Sierra Nevada Mountains rise to more than 14,000 feet in elevation behind Owens Lake, fed by the snows of the Sierras which are currently lower than one-fifth their normal depth, on May 6, 2007 near Lone Pine, California. David McNew/Getty Images.)

A Nobel-prize winning scientist says global climate change threatens California's water supply. The lack of snowpack in the state's tallest mountain range could cause a water crisis by the end of the century. KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce has more.

Steve Chu is the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics. He says published climate models predict California could lose 30 to 70 percent of its snowpack because of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Chu : That prediction was for that very optimistic scenario. So that's what's so scary about this. Even in the best of all possible worlds, there will be changes, significant changes.

The state depends on the snowpack to generate hydroelectricity, fill reservoirs and irrigate the biggest agricultural economy in the United States. This year, California's snowpack is 29 percent of normal, the lowest in 20 years.

Chu : This dry year is not 'aha, see it's happening.' They are sampling all over the world and they've been tracking for fifty years. And it's that average sampling all over the world that's the scary part. I mean this is not just Sierra snowpack, this is happening all over the world. Except in a few places where there are anomalies. But on the average, it's undeniable.

He says energy efficiency and conservation can show big gains in the short term in reducing greenhouse gases. Chu will oversee new energy programs at the Berkeley lab under a program with oil company BP. The goal is to create new biofuels for transportation.

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.