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Jargon Therapy: Defining Science — The Quick and Dirty

The war over water is pending, say those who study fluvial processes. Sounds dirty to me.

Actually, I was speaking to a Montana’s water specialist for my college newspaper about the snowpack  and how a recent whopper of a storm had eased some of the water shortage worries in the Northwest. He kept clogging up my comprehension with talk about his treasured “fluvial processes.”

“Pardon me,” I said, interrupting his elaboration on the velocity of seasonal runoff. “What are these ‘fluvial processes’ of which you speak?”

It took a few laps around until I discovered that he meant the manner in which streams move across the land. They’re running slower and, in some places, dry.

Not a topic that would make you splash with excitement, but what is truly fascinating is the extensive impact that mountain snowmelt has on all states that depend on water from the Rockies.

Climate change is altering ecosystems in ways mankind has never known. As the world warms, mammals, fish and birds are shifting their habitats to compensate. The water on which they sup determines where they reside
Understanding and calculating winter snowpack, melt, schedules as well as controlling the spring runoff, influences major natural resources decisions. These fluvial processes impact how we grow our food, where and how we recreate, how much water is released from our reservoirs and the amount of energy that can be generated by dams.

“So, how is Montana actually doing with our snowpack? Is there enough snow to get us through the year?” I asked, seeking a summarizing statement to wrap up the article.
“From this point on, we need 115 percent of what typically accumulates from this point on,” he said.  Huh, we need 115 percent more snow? All right, I’ve got a few more questions to ask.

P.S. The pending war over water is the central topic of the Waters in the Wild West lecture series currently held at UM.