According to a new study from the U.S. Department of the interior, the Colorado River Basin will witness significant strain over the next 50 years as a result of climate change and increased water demand. The study shows a growing imbalance between future water supply and withdrawal demand from the basin. The supply gap is projected to be as high as 8 million acre-feet or 2.6 trillion gallons by 2060. The study recommends that immediate steps be taken to conserve water, develop new resources, and improve management of water supply.
The Colorado River Basin is one of the most critical sources of water in the Western United States. The Basin spans nearly all of Arizona, across large portions of Utah and Colorado, and extends into parts of California, New Mexico, and Wyoming. The River and its tributaries provide water to over 40 million municipal users, and supports 22 Native American tribes, 5.5 million acres of farm land, seven national wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, and 11 national parks. The River is also a major source of drinking water for Mexico.
It is estimated that the population reliant on the basin will increase from 40 million people in 2015 to between 49 million and 76 million by 2060. The largest increase in water demand will likely come from municipal and industrial sectors resulting from extensive population growth. Apart from domestic water supply, the basin is extremely important for its electricity generation. Several hydropower facilities are located along the River providing more than 4,200 megawatts of generating capacity.
The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study was the first of its kind and included a wide array of adaptation and mitigation strategies proposed by the public and key stakeholders. The study reviewed a sample of over 150 proposed options to reduce projected imbalances, but it did not recommend any specific solutions. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar stated “Water is the lifeblood for our communities and this study provides a solid platform to explore actions we can take toward a sustainable water future. There is no silver bullet to solve the imbalance between the demand for water and the supply in the Colorado River Basin, it’s going to take diligent planning and collaboration from all stakeholders to identify and move forward with practical solutions. “