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The Colorado crisis

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

The Colorado River is drying up, threatening the seven states in the western United States that rely on it as a water source.

The Colorado River feeds into two major reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. These reservoirs are at extreme lows, less than a third full, due to a decrease in the Colorado River’s flow (Vox). If they reach “dead pool,” the 25 million Americans who rely on Lake Mead will be cut off from freshwater (The Washington Post). Additionally, without suitable action, there will be a 30 percent decrease in the flow of the Colorado River by the middle of the century and a 50 percent decrease by 2100 (NPR).

Why is the Colorado River drying up? Well, there are various factors. Firstly, the region surrounding the river has been suffering from a long and intense drought, and climate change has exacerbated the situation. Wet areas are getting wetter; dry areas are getting drier. Additionally, river flow has been diverted for irrigation for decades, pushing the drying of the Colorado River to the brink. In fact, 75 percent of the water used from the river is for agriculture, as most of the country’s winter produce originates in surrounding regions (Vox). Moreover, nearby towns and cities rely on the Colorado river for drinking water and daily activities such as brushing teeth, taking showers, and using the toilet. Lastly, there has been limited runoff of snowpack reaching reservoirs: in 2021, 90 percent of the projected snowfall fell, yet only 29 percent of runoff from the snow reached reservoirs (The Washington Post).

Water shortages resulting from drying water sources are not limited to the western US. In fact, 94 of the 205 freshwater basins around the nation are in trouble. Parts of the Great Plains, the Midwest, and the South will soon have to face water shortages, and in 50 years, the total US freshwater supply could decrease by a third (National Geographic).

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