Supply Shortages Looming: Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study

Bureau of Reclamation Study Released After 3 Years of Research

2012-12-13

Colorado-riverThe Colorado River - lifeblood of 7 western US states - will not provided enough water to meet future demand according to a new study. The Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study was released by the US Bureau of Reclamation on 12-12-2012 after three years of research. The study covers the entire Colorado River Basin across state and international lines, and examines river flows and water demands up to 2060 with ancicipated population increases, a warming climate, and other pressures on this critical water supply.

The study forecasts a significant gap between available supply and the expected demands of a growing population within 50 years. 

"The mean natural flow (of the Colorado River) at Lees Ferry over the next 50 years is projected to decrease by approximately 9 percent, along with a projected increase in both drought frequency and duration as compared to the observed historical and paleo-based scenarios," the report said.  Population in the seven Colorado River Basin states is expected to grow from appoximately 40 million people in 2015 to between 50 and 77 million in 2060 depending upon the growth scenario chosen, dramatically increasing demand for water from the Colorado.

"We are in a very troubling trajectory," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a teleconference announcing the release of the report. "We need to reduce our demand. We also need to look at increasing our water supply through practical, doable, common sense measures such as re-use."

"There is no silver bullet that will solve the issue," Salazar explained while noting that far fetched supply concepts such as expensive pipelines and floating icebergs south from Alaska are politically and technically unrealistic.  Salazar said that increased water conservation and reuse are much more promising. 

“The study confirms what we already understand: The Colorado River is already fully used,” said Eric Kuhn, Colorado River District General Manager. “In the very near future, the demand for the river’s resources will far exceed the available supply. In order to meet the needs of people and aquatic‐dependent species and habitats, new ways of thinking and doing business will be essential.”

Denver Water Manager Jim Lochhead stressed the need for well thought-out solutions in response to the forecast water shortage.  "We have time to approach solutions thoughtfully," Lochhead said. "We don't need to pursue drastic solutions in the short-term."

"Water conservation is a proven solution that is already saving significant amounts of water in the Colorado River Basin," said Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. "This study points out the potential peril of future water supply shortages in stark terms.  It is good to see the Federal Government coming to grips with the water supply challenges facing the western US.  Water efficiency and conservation in cities and on farms can be expanded and accelerated to help address these challenges."