Declining Snowpack Threatens Colorado River Basin, Study Finds

Nov 17, 2015

A study published last week identifies regions where climate change is likely to imperil the water supply. The Colorado River Basin is high on the list.  

Mountain snowpack contributes to water supply in the Colorado River Basin.
Credit Melissa Sevigny

The researchers looked at places where rainfall isn’t high enough to meet human demand for water, and snowmelt flowing into rivers makes up the difference. The study identified nearly 100 of these “snow-sensitive” regions around the globe. Together they’re home to nearly two billion people.

The study found about a third of those places run a high risk of future water shortages. That includes the Colorado River Basin, as well as California and parts of Europe and the Middle East. These watersheds have large populations and already use up much of their snowmelt. If the climate warms the way many scientists expect, that supply of snow will shrink. 

The study did not take into account expected population growth in those vulnerable areas. It also didn’t consider how people manage their water supplies to deal with possible shortages – like storing water in reservoirs.