By © 2009 Longmont Times-Call
A study by University of Colorado researchers predicts there’s a 50 percent chance that reservoirs on the Colorado River will go dry in next 50 years under current management practices.
Ongoing drought in the river basin, which includes western Colorado and Wyoming and much of Utah, Arizona and Nevada, already has depleted almost half of the stored water in Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
Because of the large storage capacity of the system, the threats to water supplies won’t be felt in great measure until at least 2026, and even then, the researchers speak more to the probability that any single-year drought will cause the system to crash.
Such dire warnings about the Colorado River basin are not a new phenomenon. In fact, books were being written in the 1970s and ’80s noting how the Colorado River Compact of 1922 allocated more water than was going through the system.
The potential effects of climate change could further reduce the water in the system.
That’s why the caveat of “current management practices” is so important in the CU study.
Water managers will have to remain vigilant about basin diversions to places such as the Front Range and Southern California.
Even more important, the federal government will have to have all the facts about how much water would be used in the development of oil shale before signing off on grand schemes to tap the Western Slope’s vast reserves. The trade-off of petroleum energy for large outlays of water resources might not be beneficial.
The Colorado River flows through a dry and dusty land; careful stewardship of the resource will ensure that future generations have what they need, as well.