Tom Yulsman: ‘We are taking more water out of the Colorado River basin than actually flows out of the Colorado River basin’


From the Boulder Weekly (Jefferson Dodge):

Tom Yulsman, co-director of CU-Boulder’s Center for Environmental Journalism, co-authored a two-part article with journalism master’s student Brendon Bosworth called “Running Toward Empty” [ed. Part One and Part Two] in early 2011. One of the questions they asked was whether last winter’s heavy snowpack made a dent in reversing the effects of a decade-long drought that has created “bathtub rings” at shrinking Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Their response was, yes, but it was a small dent, and most signs point to the problem getting worse, not better.

“We are taking more water out of the Colorado River basin than actually flows out of the Colorado River basin,” Yulsman tells Boulder Weekly, adding that “savings banks” like Mead and Powell have been the only thing keeping the lower reaches of the Colorado from drying up even more.

Click through and read the whole article including an interview with Jennifer Pitt Colorado River Project director for the Environmental Defense Fund. Here’s an excerpt:

Boulder Weekly: For those here in Boulder County who may not be intimately familiar with the water management challenges that we’re facing on the Colorado, would you give a quick snapshot of what you’re working on right now?

Jennifer Pitt: From a basin-wide perspective, I think there’s been a recent realization that demands on the river for water actually have been exceeding supply. That’s in part caused by the fact that we’ve been in an 11or 12-year drought.

But drought notwithstanding, especially if demands keep rising, we’re at the point where use of the river’s water is unsustainable. Everybody believes that the region will continue to grow, there’s a great quality of life in the mountain West, in the Southwest, and people are attracted to this region for a variety of reasons. And there’s no reason to think that’s going to stop or that it’s not going to pick up as the economy improves.

That will cause water demands to continue to increase, and there’s a lot of concern that climate change will cause supply to decrease, possibly because of decreased precipitation in the region, but certainly because of increased temperatures that will increase evaporation rates and demands for water.

BW: So it’s kind of like a perfect storm where supply is dwindling and demand is increasing.

JP: Exactly. So that’s the essence of the challenge. Every institution and agency that is a stakeholder in the river and the river’s water is concerned about it. From the environmental perspective, we are concerned that because there is no inherent right to water for the river itself, and because of historically how the river has been managed — where the environment usually gets last dibs — if we are not proactive, there will be bad outcomes for the river. We have the first look at that kind of outcome in the delta of the Colorado River down at the U.S./ Mexico border.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

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