From 5280.com (Jay Bouchard):
With dangerously low snowpack levels across the state, Colorado is facing a severe water shortage. We take a look at what that means for rivers, wildfires, and the future of water use in the West.
To put things in perspective, on April 9—which is historically the peak day for snowpack in Colorado—almost the entire state was sitting at below-average levels. Southern Colorado had it worst. The Upper Rio Grande basin, for instance, boasted a meager 43 percent of its normal snowpack. The Gunnison basin sat at only 57 percent. The Arkansas basin was at 63 percent. Only the North and South Platte River basins approached normal levels.
A month later, little has improved. “We’re staring down a pretty bleak water year,” says Matt Rice, director of the American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program. And what’s worse, he says, is that “This is absolutely part of a trend.” According to river and conservation scientists, Colorado is in the midst of a drought that dates back to the record-dry year of 2002. Although we have had some wet winters over the past two decades, dry seasons are now becoming “the new normal.” And that’s a problem—not just for our ski resorts, rivers, and lakes, but also for our farmers, cities and our neighboring states…
Ask a climate scientist why water scarcity in Colorado has become so dire, and their most simple answer will likely be a two-part explanation: Climate change and population growth. Over the past several decades, Colorado has seen warmer temperatures with dryer winters and diminished snowpack. It doesn’t help that, since 2000, Colorado has gained approximately 1.3 million residents, all of whom in some way rely on the state’s water sources. “The population growth is very much compounded by climate change,” Rice says. “There is increasing demand on rivers for municipal and industrial water use.”
Moreover, the Front Range gets about 50 percent of its water—roughly 160 billion gallons—via annual trans-mountain diversions from rivers on the Western Slope. These diversions draw water away from communities and rivers experiencing the most severe drought conditions in Colorado. “We’re all connected, says Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers program director for Boulder-based Western Resources Advocates. “Water use in Denver, in some ways, is having an impact on our West Slope neighbors.” A complicated diversion system, in conjunction with population growth and a changing climate, leaves us facing a stark reality: We’re running out of water.