Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says a new study of the Colorado River Basin's water supply and demand should be a wakeup call to communities that depend on the water. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Colorado River Basin study projects future water shortages
Climate » Population will increase, but the water supply will shrink 9% by 2060.
First Published Dec 12 2012 05:12 pm • Last Updated Dec 12 2012 10:43 pm

Water supply projections are so dire in the Colorado River Basin looking 50 years into the future that some have suggested towing icebergs from the Arctic to quench the Southwest’s growing thirst.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Interior released a 163-page Colorado River study that projected demand for water would outstrip supply by 2060.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"This is a very significant finding," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday in a telephone conference call. "This study should serve as a call to action."

Utah’s fortunes, however, look brighter than those of the lower Colorado Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada that already are facing shortages, said Dennis Strong, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources.

The Beehive State has not used all the water allocated to it from the Colorado River, he said. And the 1922 Colorado River Compact protects that allocation.

"The solution [for the lower basin states] is not to take water from the upper basin," Strong said.

But the study, a three-year cooperative effort between the federal government and the seven states in the river basin, including Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, produced startling findings.

By 2060, the water supply in the Colorado River and its tributaries will fall at least 3.2 million acre-feet short of demand and could be as much as 8 million acre-feet less than needed. (An acre-foot is the typical amount an average suburban family uses in one year.)

Presently, the Colorado River Basin is home to 33 million people. That number is projected to grow in coming decades. But, by 2060, the study says the flows in the Colorado and its tributaries will drop 9 percent from what they are today.

The findings were based on mathematical models that include drought and climate change, according to federal officials.

story continues below
story continues below

There will be no "silver bullet" solution to the problem, Salazar said, citing a host of proposed actions, including conservation, re-use of storm and waste water, new plumbing efficiencies, updated land-management strategies and progressive water-rate structures.

The Interior boss added that proposals such as piping water 600 miles from the Missouri River to Denver or dragging icebergs from the Arctic to Los Angeles are not being considered.

However, desalinization may be part of the solution. The federal government operates an experimental desalinization plant in Yuma, Ariz. But critics say such a process is too expensive to be feasible.

In Utah, conservation will be the key to future water use, Strong said. Moderate water-saving strategies should guarantee enough water for municipal and agricultural uses into the foreseeable future.

Further, he noted, the study should not undermine a proposed water pipeline from Lake Powell to St. George, even though flows into and out of the reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam will be significantly lower.

The Colorado River Basin study defined and quantified the water-shortage problem, said Pat Graham, Arizona director of the Nature Conservancy. Fortunately, he said, there is time to find solutions.

"The important thing is, diverse interests came together for this study and that’s what it will take to find solutions."

Water-saving strategies implemented at local levels will be more efficient and cost less than regional solutions that tend to be large and expensive, Graham said.

"The more of those [local approaches] we get in place, the more time we buy," he said, "and the regional projects will be smaller and fewer."

Salt Lake City has demonstrated that is possible, said Jeff Niermeyer, director of public utilities.

Since 2000, the city has decreased its demand for water by 15 percent to 17 percent, he said. Those savings came from education, conservation and more efficient plumbing.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.