Study IDs gap between supply, demand in Colorado River Basin

A landmark new study projects an average annual gap of more than 3.2 million acre feet between supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin by 2060.

In announcing the study’s findings today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also discounted the idea of pursuing proposals such as diversions from the Mississippi, Missouri or Columbia rivers or shipping of icebergs to California.

“In my view those solutions are impractical and technically not feasible,” he said.

Instead, he said, the focus needs to be on common-sense solutions such as reuse.

The study was undertaken by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states.

An acre-foot of water is about that used by a household in a year. The basin now provides water to about 40 million people. However, the study projects that under a rapid-growth scenario, that number could nearly double to 76.5 million people by 2060.

Even before its release, the study drew criticism for making such an assumption, saying it didn’t account for the effect of the recession on population numbers in the Southwest.

“States cooked the books to show higher demand for water consumption to set up a federal bailout on expensive water projects,” Molly Mugglestone, director of the conservation group Protect the Flows, said in a news release earlier this week.

However, federal officials indicated today that the study considers a range of population estimates, including one anticipating only a slight increase.

Officials say climate change also is a factor behind the projected water gap.

In a news release, Ted Kowalski, a section chief for the Colorado Water Conservation Board who served on the Basin Study Project team, said the CWCB already has been addressing issues raised in the report.

“Now, with this basin-wide, cooperative effort, we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture, and begin to work towards planning for the future, with a well-informed idea of where we’re headed,” he said.

Jim Lochhead, manager and chief executive officer of Denver Water and chair of the Front Range Water Council, said in a council release, “Although the report projects potentially significant shortages for the Colorado River Basin as a whole, it is important to understand more specifically when, where and to what extent those shortages may occur. This will require detailed analysis of the study results and the implementation of a variety of responses. While this is a critical issue for Colorado, we have time to approach solutions thoughtfully.”


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