Colorado River Joins List of US Water Crises


Despite the issues that fuel our political discussion today, there are issues in the not-so-distant future that our world will have to face, such as global climate change and technological unemployment. One of them is happening right in Colorado’s backyard: American water shortage.

The Colorado River stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, cutting through the Grand Canyon and determining the state boundaries between Nevada, Arizona, and California. Its influence is just as expansive, supplying water for agriculture, hydroelectricity, and urban consumption to the cities it cuts through. Most of this is accomplished with the help of water diverters such as Colorado-Big Thompson Project (CBT) and Denver Water, to direct water away from the Colorado River toward reservoirs.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Colorado River’s water levels have been running severely low due to climate change, severe drought, and man-made projects. The ecological damage is obvious; low flows have gathered sediment and elevated water temperatures, weeds and algae clog up the water, and animals that depend on clear stream flow are dying.

Yet cities are talking about increasing water storage by expanding reservoirs and using the Colorado River as their source. Despite environmental impact implications, Colorado’s population is projected to double by 2050, and population growth correlates to more water demand. Water diverters are intent on storing more water in preparation of the future, at nature’s cost.

“Until the last 10 years, there was never any moss,” Duane Scholl, a Colorado fisherman, said in an interview with The Denver Post. “Now it’s choked with moss from the Williams Fork to Kremmling.”

Scholl’s interview took place in 2006, and the concerns he addressed have only multiplied. In November of 2016, the University of Colorado Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and Environment concluded that President-Elect Trump needs to prioritize the Colorado River crisis within the first 100 days of his presidency in order to reduce damage to the environment. According to The Denver Post, federal models suggest a 48 percent chance that Arizona, California, and Nevada could be facing water shortages as early as 2018 if no action is taken.

According to the Smithsonian magazine, the Colorado River now provides water for 30 million people, and 70 percent of the river is diverted for irrigation alone. So much water has been sucked from the Colorado River that it’s impacting the ecological system that depends on it, as well as the cities that draw from it. Water shortage isn’t just an ecological problem; it’s a sociopolitical mess.

Solutions aren’t going to be easy to come by; cutting water use will open a hive of other problems such as water rights, and some of them are already happening. NPR recently reported that The Imperial Irrigation District faced outrage from farmers after the board voted to transfer some of the water toward cities like San Diego.

The Colorado River crisis isn’t the only major water drought problem in America—Flint, Michigan has gone without safe drinking water for over two years, and in early 2016 Nestle took over 36 million gallons of water from a California national forest during the same period of time in which Californians were told to reduce water usage during a massive drought. If solutions to these water crises aren’t approached and dealt with seriously, Americans are looking forward to a future in which safe water may no longer be a basic right.

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