Report Identifies Climate Change as a Major Threat to the Colorado River

Mar 23, 2016

The U.S. Department of the Interior says climate change is a growing threat to western water resources. A new report from the agency predicts Arizona and other states that depend on the Colorado River could face significant shortages in the coming years. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Waters in Lake Powell have receded over the last decade. This photo mud flats exposed near Hite, Utah in 2005.
Credit High Country News

The SECURE Water Act Report predicts high-elevation snowpack will continue to decrease as temperatures rise and more precipitation falls in the form of rain. That could reduce runoff and limit spring stream flows in the Colorado River Basin. The Interior Department says as a result, water supplies for irrigation could drop and hydroelectric energy production could be negatively affected.

The Colorado River supplies water to nearly 40 million people in seven states, and it’s used to irrigate about 10 million acres of land. The report says demand for the river is projected to increase over the next several decades.

In addition, more than 15 years of drought has caused reservoirs on the Colorado River to drop to their lowest-ever points. The agency outlined several strategies to deal with the shortages, including water reuse, desalination, rainwater harvesting, and increased watershed and forest management.