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Ear to the Ground

A Growing Water Deficit in the West

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Posted on Dec 13, 2012
.Bala (CC BY 2.0)

Most river water that is consumed goes to agriculture.

A three-year study by the Department of the Interior has concluded that a hotter, drier climate is threatening the water supply for 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River.

The study predicts smaller rivers, shrinking snowpack, struggling crops and an intensifying competition among wildlife.

Solutions proposed by state water authorities include diverting the Missouri River to the Denver area and desalinating ocean water, while others have suggested floating icebergs south and importing water on tankers. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called those solutions politically and technically infeasible, The Denver Post reported. Conservationists responded similarly.

Dan Grossman, regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund, said that new systems that better share and reuse water were the most promising and practical.

“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the dry West and what makes it possible for us to live in this spectacular region,” he said. “We can’t keep bleeding the river.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Denver Post:

The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study concluded that climate change will reduce the long-term average of 15 million acre-feet in the river by 9 percent to 13.7 million acre-feet. It found that, within 50 years, the Western states’ annual water deficit will reach 3.2 million acre-feet — but could be as high as 8 million acre-feet, depending on population growth. (An acre-foot has been regarded as the amount needed to sustain two families of four for a year.)

… Overall, the study reflects growing recognition by the federal Bureau of Reclamation that climate change has serious consequences and confirms ecosystem limits that scientists and people along the river and its headwaters have been observing for years.

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