The Colorado River: Demand Has Now Outstripped Supply Colorado River Water Shortages: Present Concerns and Future Fears The Colorado River: Demand Has Now Outstripped Supply Colorado River Water Shortages: Present Concerns and Future Fears
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The Colorado River: Demand Has Now Outstripped Supply Colorado River Water Shortages: Present Concerns and Future Fears

by Ben Jervey

January 25, 2011
The Colorado River, a water source to at least 30 million people in seven states and Mexico, is drying up. It hasn't reached the sea in ages, and in 2002, for the first time, total demand for the river's water climbed higher than the total river's supply. 

As the Climate Central chart shows, supply no longer meets demand:

“During this drought the curves have finally crossed,” says Terrance Fulp, deputy regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region. “Obviously, no matter how much storage you have in the system, you’re not overly confident in your sustainability if demand continually outstrips supply.”

Part Two looks forward to future prospects for the region.

The researchers found that if climate change reduces runoff by just 10 percent, scheduled deliveries of water to users will be missed almost 60 percent of the time by the year 2050. If runoff should drop by 20 percent, those deliveries will be missed 88 percent of the time...

This sounds worrisome enough. But these estimates are based on the long-term average flows experienced through most of the 20th century. And the record of climate over a longer time span reveals that period to have been unusually wet.

There's some small solace to be taken:

In the next 20 years, the risk that lakes Mead and Powell would become depleted is actually relatively low—providing time for policy makers to devise new management strategies.

I could excerpt the whole thing if I let myself get carried away. Overall, it's a heroic work of long form, in-depth, expository reporting on a subject that means everything to a huge swath of our nation. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user cm195902

Chart credit: Russell Freedman for Climate Central. Data: Bureau of Reclamation.

Ben Jervey More Info

Ben is a writer and editor covering climate change, energy, and environment, and is currently the Climate and Energy Media Fellow at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor at GOOD Magazine and his work has appeared regularly in National Geographic News, Grist, DeSmogBlog, and OnEarth. He recently worked with the non-profit Focus the Nation to publish an Energy 101 primer. When living in New York City, he wrote a book, The Big Green Apple, on how to live a lower impact life in the city. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.
Some recent articles by Ben Jervey:
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The Colorado River: Demand Has Now Outstripped Supply Colorado River Water Shortages: Present Concerns and Future Fears