Colorado River Basin Study Points to Value of Common-sense Solutions and Practices

Colorado River Basin Study Points to Value of Common-sense Solutions and Practices

December 10, 2012, Oakland, CA: The federal Bureau of Reclamation’s new Colorado River Basin Water Demand and Supply Study (CRBS) is the culmination of a two-year-long effort to develop and analyze future demand and supply scenarios for the seven Colorado River basin states (AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV, UT, and WY) and recommend options and strategies for meeting the projected water demands of industry, agriculture, and a growing population.

The Basin Study shows that demands in the basin already exceed the river’s available supply. The situation will be exacerbated as demands grow due to population growth – and supply diminishes as climate change alters weather patterns and reduces the amount of water flowing down the river.

“The use of climate change projections in the Basin Study is a valuable step forward, making supply projections much more realistic,” said Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute, an expert on Colorado River water resources. “As the basin experiences yet another year of drought, with precipitation less than 40 percent of average in many parts of the Rockies, it’s critically important that planners start to account for the new normal – a hotter, drier Colorado River basin.”

But researchers find that Reclamation’s Basin Study hugely inflates projected water demand, based on outdated population projections and a refusal to acknowledge the conservation trends demonstrated by cities throughout the basin. To meet this inflated water demand, the Basin Study includes far-fetched options such as pipelines from the Missouri River and a host of seawater desalination plants in California and Mexico – one of the most expensive water-supply options available.

The Basin Study explores a large number of options designed to bridge the gap between future demand and supply. Many of these options, like urban and agricultural water conservation, have already proven successful in the basin and throughout the West. In 2011 the Pacific Institute released a report documenting the tremendous successes achieved by urban water agencies and their customers, throughout the basin states. The study showed that cities like Albuquerque, Denver, and Salt Lake used less water in 2008 than they had in 1990, despite tremendous population growth. Their examples – and others – show a clear path forward for the basin.

“Recent work in California and elsewhere has demonstrated that farmers also can use less water while maintaining or improving their crop yields and revenue,” said Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith, of the Pacific Institute. “Many of these existing practices could be implemented successfully through-out the Colorado River basin states, potentially saving more than a million acre-feet of water.”

“Now is the time for Reclamation and the basin states to embrace the proven approaches that have already reduced demand for Colorado River water,” said Cohen. “Strong federal and state support for programs that operate successfully on a local level will take pressure off of our stressed Colorado River and enable it to meet the needs of future generations.”

Read the 2011 study Municipal Deliveries of Colorado River Basin Water.

Read more about the Colorado River.