Sunday, April 14, 2024

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The Colorado River Water Shortage Is Happening

There has been a terrible drought in the western United States that has been going on for two decades now with no end in sight. It is having a major impact on the water supply from the Colorado River.

According to the latest measurement of Lake Mead, the water levels fell below 1,075 feet. It has only gone below this amount a handful of times since its creation in the 1930s.

For reference, if the water goes below 950 feet, the Hoover Dam can no longer produce electricity. At 895 feet, water would no longer be accessible to the 40 million people that rely on it.

That said, it is unlikely to reach these levels for many many years, even with drought conditions.

No Chance the Colorado River Will Recover by 2022

Drought

The latest US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) forecast predicts that there is no chance for the reservoir to recover before at least the end of 2022.

Currently, Lake Mead is only 37% full and 16 feet below where it was last year. Meanwhile, Lake Powell, another reservoir by the Hoover Dam, is 34% of its maximum capacity while being 34 feet lower than the previous year.

It is important to note that this forecast can only reasonably predict up to 2022. It is possible that the recovery is not possible for longer than that. However, it really depends on the weather conditions.

Warming Temperatures Are to Blame

Over the last century, the Colorado River’s water flow has decreased by 20% as a direct result of rising temperatures.

The first and most obvious reason is that it is raining less as the temperature warms. The issue has peaked in the last 20 years with this drought. And what’s even worse is that due to the hotter weather, the soil is getting drier. Thus when it does rain, that water is quickly absorbed.

While the other main reason is the massive decrease in snow packing. Snowpack is the snow that accumulates during the winter on the nearby mountains, and during the spring, this snow melts.

That water should then end up in the nearby rivers and streams. However, due to the higher temperatures, snow is less likely to accumulate or even happen in the first place.

As emission levels continue to rise, it’s unlikely this will change in the coming years. even with recent pledges from the United States, it won’t be enough.

Instead, carbon capture technology will be essential.

Who Will This Water Shortage Affect?

It is almost certain that this decrease will trigger a Tier 1 water shortage this summer. And due to the terms of the 2019 Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona will feel the shortage.

This state only has junior rights to the river’s water supply. Thus, the water it is allotted will be slashed by one-third. This cut will mostly affect farmers in Arizona and not major population centers in the state.

If conditions worsen to Tier 2, the state would receive further reductions in water that will impact cities and some native tribes.

The state is already preparing for the cuts.

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Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.

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