After Decades Of #Warming And Drying, The #ColoradoRiver Struggles To Water The West — KUNC #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. Lake Mead last month fell to its lowest level since the Hoover Dam was built in 1936. The shoreline has dropped 45 meters since the reservoir was last full in 2000. Photo by Ken Neubecker via American Rivers

Here’s an in-depth dive into the stresses on the Colorado River with the stories of some of the affected folks from Luke Runyon that’s running on the KUNC website. Click through and read the whole thing to meet Luke’s new friends. Here’s an excerpt:

Another dry year has left the waterway that supplies 40 million people in the Southwest parched. A prolonged 21-year warming and drying trend is pushing the nation’s two largest reservoirs to record lows. For the first time this summer, the federal government will declare a shortage.

Climate change is exacerbating the current drought. Warming temperatures are upending how the water cycle functions in the Southwest. The 1,450-mile long river acts as a drinking water supply, a hydroelectric power generator, and an irrigator of crop fields across seven Western states and two in Mexico. Scientists say the only way forward is to rein in demands on the river’s water to match its decline.

#LakePowell is seen in a November 2019 aerial photo from the nonprofit EcoFlight. Keeping enough water in the reservoir to support downstream users in Arizona, Nevada and California is complicated by climate change, as well as projections that the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico will use as much as 40% more water than current demand. A recent white paper from a lineup of river experts calls those use projections into question. CREDIT: ECOFLIGHT via Aspen Journalism

With the river’s infrastructure able to cushion against some of the immediate effects, what manifests is a slow-moving crisis. Water managers, farmers and city leaders clearly see the coming challenges, but haven’t yet been forced to drastically change their uses, always hoping for another wet year to stave off the inevitable.

But with its two biggest buckets — Lakes Powell and Mead — at or below 35% of capacity, and projected to decline even further, a reckoning over the West’s water use appears closer on the horizon.

Extremely dry conditions like the region is experiencing in 2021 make clear that the Colorado River is currently unable to meet all the demands communities in the Western U.S. have placed on it, and it’s up to its biggest users to decide who has to rely on it less.

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