Study: Global warming is drying up the Colorado River — vital to 40 million people

 A kayaker paddles upstream on the Colorado River near Dotsero next to a pasture that has been preserved as open space. Jason Blevins, The Denver Post

A kayaker paddles upstream on the Colorado River near Dotsero next to a pasture that has been preserved as open space. Jason Blevins, The Denver Post

By Dan Elliott

Global warming is already shrinking the Colorado River, the most important waterway in the American Southwest, and it could reduce the flow by more than a third by the end of the century, two scientists say.

The river’s volume has dropped more than 19 percent during a drought gripping the region since 2000, and a shortage of rain and snow can account for only about two-thirds of that decline, according to hydrology researchers Brad Udall of Colorado State University and Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona.

In a study published last week in the journal Water Resources Research, they concluded that the rest of the decline is due to a warming atmosphere induced by climate change, which is drawing more moisture out of the Colorado River Basin’s waterways, snowbanks, plants and soil by evaporation and other means.

Their projections could signal big problems for cities and farmers across the 246,000-square-mile basin, which spans parts of seven states and Mexico. The river supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland.

“Fifteen years into the 21st century, the emerging reality is that climate change is already depleting the Colorado River water supplies at the upper end of the range suggested by previously published projections,” the researchers wrote. “Record-setting temperatures are an important and underappreciated component of the flow reductions now being observed.”

The Denver Post

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Categories: Climate change, Climate science, Earth Science, Environment, Hydrology, Natural resources, Science, Top stories, US News, Water quality

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4 replies

  1. Few understand how vital this water is to our nation. It has been a point of contention for generations between the states. We need leaders again that have some concept of future planning. We clearly do not have many today that have the intellectual skill needed to understand this or the science of Climate change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not confident that our democratic institutions will be able to adequately respond to the crisis of a growing water shortage in the western United States, even assuming that we could find the political will to do so. The problem is two-pronged: increased demand due to population growth, and a dwindling water supply as a result of climatic change.

      Even though San Francisco experienced the driest January on record (165 years) in 2015, many are now proclaiming the drought in California over after heavy rains replenished reservoirs this winter.

      However, as climatologist Juliet Christian-Smith explains, “Currently, California “is in a structural deficit. We use more than we get on an annual basis. Just like a bank account, this means we’re in overdraft,”…Southern California, which does not have enough reservoir capacity, gets 80 percent of its water from the California State Water Project and the Colorado River, both of which rely on the ever-shrinking snowpack.”

      Water is indeed the “new gold.”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This is one of the worst news I’ve read lately. My best readings is about the Geological History of this beautiful 1,450-mile-long river and its basin in Grand Canyon, beside my readings about the major tributaries of Nile river
    The man doesn’t know what he is losing in his reckless race for dollars

    Liked by 2 people

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