05/30/2013 09:54 EDT | Updated 07/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Rocky Mountain Snowpack Loss Raises Water Concerns

A new study by the U.S. Geological Society says an estimated 20 per cent loss of snow cover across the Rocky Mountains will impact millions of people who rely on the Rockies for their water.

The study, released earlier this month, indicates the northern Rocky Mountains experienced large snowpacks until the 1980s.

But in the last three decades, northern snowpacks have been declining due to warmer spring temperatures.

Scientist Julio Betancourt, one of the authors of the study, says the findings should be worrisome for those relying on the Rocky Mountain snowmelt for water.

"The western United States has about 70 million people. Roughly 60 to 80 per cent of their water supply comes from snowpack. It's pretty critical," he said.

The study's findings will also impact the water supply for people in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The timing and rate of snow melt from the Rocky Mountains have a wide and varying effect, impacting things from crop irrigation to energy production from hydroelectric dams to the risk of regional floods and wildfires.

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