Colorado River Study: Will There Be Enough Water To Support The Demand?

Colorado River Delta

Colorado River Delta | Peter McBride

Will there be enough?

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.
– W.H. Auden

Yesterday, The Bureau of Reclamation issued its Final Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.

Authorized by Congress through the Secure Water Act of 2009 and jointly funded and prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states – that projects water supply and demand imbalances throughout the Colorado River Basin and adjacent areas over the next 50 years.

The study, the first of its kind, also includes a wide array of adaptation and mitigation strategies proposed by stakeholders and the public to address the projected imbalances.

The average imbalance in future supply and demand is projected to be greater than 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060, according to the study. One acre-foot of water is approximately the amount of water used by a single household in a year. The study projects that the largest increase in demand will come from municipal and industrial users, owing to population growth.

The Colorado River Basin currently provides water to some 40 million people, and the study estimates that this number could nearly double to approximately 76.5 million people by 2060, under a rapid growth scenario.

Population growth is compounded by climate change, making status quo management of the basin’s water resources untenable. Currently, much of the West is bone dry, particularly the Upper Colorado watershed. In southwestern Colorado, a total of just 1.2 inches of precipitation has fallen since Oct. 1, and the snowpack is 40 percent of average, making the prospects for another year of severe to extreme drought likely.

So where do we go from here?

This is just the beginning of a very important conversation. A conversation, in which all stakeholders will ultimately decide how the tens of millions of people who rely on the Colorado River for water, will ultimately continue to live and prosper in the Southwest. As the Bureau of Reclamation study indicates, the rational path forward includes solutions which optimize existing infrastructure, promote practical and cost effective augmentation projects without damaging the environment, while also achieving robust levels of conservation and efficiency.

“There’s no silver bullet to solve the imbalance between the demand for water and the supply in the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years – rather, it’s going to take diligent planning and collaboration from all stakeholders to identify and move forward with practical solutions,” said Secretary Salazar. “Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and this study provides a solid platform to explore actions we can take toward a sustainable water future. While not all of the proposals included in the study are feasible, they underscore the broad interest in finding a comprehensive set of solutions.”