the

Colorado River

the Colorado River is one of the West's

most important rivers it supplies water

to more than 30 million people and

irrigates more than 1.8 million acres of

farmland in California it provides about

a third of all supplies for cities and

suburbs in the southern part of the

state and supports a large farming

industry in the Imperial Valley it is

also an important source of power in the

West with the capacity to supply about

780 thousand homes with electricity each

year but the Colorado River is facing

major challenges demand for its water

outstrip supply and the environmental

consequences of dams and diversions

continue to grow these problems are

compounded by ongoing drought and by the

prospect of continued decline in

available supplies as the climate warms

the Colorado River watershed is divided

into the upper basin includes parts of

Wyoming Utah Colorado and New Mexico

while the lower Basin is made up of

Arizona Utah California and Mexico the

waters of the Colorado are shared under

an interstate compact and international

treaty 15 million acre-feet are

allocated to the United States about

equally divided between the upper and

lower basins and 1.5 million acre-feet

are allocated to Mexico but the

assumptions about the amount of

available water have turned out to be

incorrect water use has been

outstripping supply for many years

especially in the lower basin the

results a big drop in water levels in

the two largest reservoirs Lake Mead and

Lake Powell this mismatch between water

use and available supply in part it's

due to dry conditions over the past 15

years but it's also because we

overestimated the amount of water

available when we divided up the rivers

waters almost a century ago the lower

Basin states are actively seeking

solutions to the problem by reducing

their demands but difficult decisions

lie ahead as the climate warms and the

population in the basin continues to

grow the management of the Colorado

waters through its many dams and

diversions have also led to significant

environmental problems

these range from loss of key riparian

and River habitats to the drying of the

Colorado River Delta where it enters the

Gulf of Mexico perhaps the most

difficult challenge is what to do about

the Salton Sea this Lake the largest

inland body of water in California was

created in 1905 when floodwaters broke

through levees and filled a natural

lowland called the Salton sink the

Salton Sea supports millions of birds

and other species including several that

are endangered

today the Seas only significant source

of water is agricultural drainage from

the Imperial Irrigation District

reductions in that drainage from

increasing efficiency transfer of water

to urban areas and declines and water

availability are causing the sea to

shrink rapidly as a result migratory

waterbirds are losing critical habitat

salinity is increasing and air quality

is declining due to dust from the

exposed shoreline California is on the

hook for addressing these problems

solutions are likely to be complicated

and very expensive

the federal government Mexico and the

seven states that rely on the Colorado

River all recognized the need to address

the rivers water supply and

environmental problems the basin states

have shown great willingness to

cooperate on developing solutions to

reduce demand and to improve the health

of the river but difficult choices lie

ahead particularly in light of climate

change California along with its

partners in the region needs to find new

and innovative policies and actions to

better manage this vital Western

resource

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