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How one Northwest tribe aims to keep its cool as its glaciers melt

Published on November 27, 2021

Mount Baker from Boulder Creek Image Credit: Lhb1239. CC BY-SA 3.0

Record-breaking heat took a heavy toll on the Northwest this summer, from beaches to cities to mountaintops. In the Washington Cascades, some glaciers lost an unprecedented 8% to 10% of their ice in a single hot season.

For many residents, the snow and ice missing from the volcanoes poking up on the horizon was jarring. For others, it threatened their way of life.

The extremely hot summer of 2021 foreshadowed how unchecked climate change could ravage the fish that depend on cold water and the people who depend on those fish.

In Whatcom County, the Nooksack and Lummi tribes are taking steps to counteract the big melt and keep their salmon and their cultures alive.

Melting snow and ice keeps many Northwest rivers flowing and relatively cool each summer.

Half or more of the North Fork Nooksack’s flow in August is liquefied glacier.

“Our snowpack basically serves as nature’s water bottle,” said University of Washington climate researcher Harriet Morgan. “It allows us to store water when we have too much of it, in the winter, and then it provides us this nice reservoir in the summer when we’re not getting that summer precipitation.”

Without that reservoir, we get “more water when we don’t need it and less when we do need it,” according to Morgan.

In September, 2,500 Chinook salmon turned up dead in the South Fork before they could spawn. Biologists with the Lummi Nation say heat-loving bacteria killed the majority of that threatened species in the warm, low-flowing river.

“We don’t have the snowpack that’s needed to keep the water cool enough for the salmon,” Lummi Nation councilmember Lisa Wilson said.

Continue reading at KUOW

Originally written by John Ryan for KUOW
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