Global warming has turned up the heat on local policy makers and scientists as they react with skepticism or take heed of predictions that Jackson County's climate will fluctuate wildly this century.

Global warming has turned up the heat on local policy makers and scientists as they react with skepticism or take heed of predictions that Jackson County's climate will fluctuate wildly this century.

Not sold yet on global warming, Tom Ferrero, who has studied the geology of this region for 25 years, calls a localized climate study by University of Oregon scientists to be released Monday ridiculous.

"This is laughable," he said.

While other local scientists disagree, Ferrero said there is not enough data or evidence to accurately predict local climate changes, much less use them as a basis to plan for these changes.

"They haven't even planned for a world without global warming," said Ferrero, who runs a geology company in Ashland and Newcastle, Calif.

He said officials have largely ignored the possibility of extreme floods like the one in 1861, which had 10 times the water volume of a devastating 1964 flood that took out several bridges. Waters during the 1861 flood rose almost to Foothill Road in east Medford.

"If you plan for the 1861 flood, you'd have to get rid of Medford," said Ferrero, who advocates more restrictions on building in floodplains but thinks they have to be weighed against the economic realities of the region.

"Central Point — forget about it, it's long gone."

Local officials have been invited to weigh in on the Rogue Basin Climate Study at a workshop Monday at the Medford library.

The study predicts that water supplies will diminish, more water conservation will be needed, more air pollution will result from higher temperatures, more flooding will occur during the winter and more disease-bearing insects could populate the region. Southern Oregon counties are among those most at risk in the western states from both existing and future wildfires, the study says.

Smaller snowpacks will mean decreased business for ski resorts and less water to irrigate crops. In other years, however, there could be healthier snowpacks because of a far more changeable climate, the study says.

"We should not stick our heads in the sand and not do anything," said Don Greene, vice chairman of the Jackson County Planning Commission.

"We're going to need some really outside-the-box solutions."

Greene said that with big changes expected in the environment locally, policy makers must wrestle with balancing economic and political realities with events that could devastate the region.

He said it will be difficult to convince some people of the changes that need to be made.

"Unfortunately, it seems to take major events to wake everybody up," he said.

Pointing to the flood disaster in the Midwest this month, he said there is at least a greater awareness of what could happen to homes and businesses in floodplains.

More fires also are predicted under the global warming scenario for this region, and Greene said that could influence how new homes are approved in rural areas.

Enacting any new ordinances will inevitably give rise to some strenuous political discussions, he said.

"There's a real balance between property rights and community rights," said Greene.

He said reducing the area's carbon footprint will be a challenge for planners in the years to come. The county, he said, is working on changes to its comprehensive plan that could result in energy-saving designs for buildings.

Mike Curry, Jackson County's emergency management program manager, said he didn't want to minimize the predictions, but "in a worst-case scenario, it's not looking anything like the Midwest."

He said unlike towns along the Mississippi River, Jackson County likely wouldn't experience days where buildings or homes were underwater.

Also, emergency officials know where flooding will take place and are prepared for it, he said.

Bob Jones, a geologist with the Medford Water Commission, said he's "not quite on board yet" when it comes to global warming.

He said there are just too many normal cycles in weather and not enough historical data to convince him that the current warming trend is abnormal.

"We just went through one of the biggest snowpacks we've ever had," said Jones, who lives in Prospect.

Jones said the water commission and other groups have been working on long-range plans that will ensure an adequate water supply for the region for the next 50 years. Proposals include lining irrigation ditches or piping the water to cut down on evaporation and leaks.

Jones said he would still be interested in hearing what the scientists have to say about the climate study.

"As far as the water commission's official position, we're always willing to work with anybody on water planning," he said.

Craig Harper, natural resources planning manager for the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, said he's seen enough evidence from the scientific community to convince him that global warming is a reality.

He said there obviously will be some variability in weather over the next century, but he's looking forward to receiving the Rogue Basin climate report.

"I think it's good to hear what some careful scientific analysis has shown," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.