New push to shore up shrinking Colorado River could reduce water flow to California and Nevada
A new push to shore up the dwindling Colorado River has been described as “extraordinarily premature,” and the federal agencies that oversee the water source may not be able to control the outcome.
The Colorado River has dropped dramatically over the past few decades. In the 1930s, flows fluctuated between 6 and 12 cubic miles per day, with some stretches more than 100 cubic miles of water. Today, flows have dropped to a meagre four cubic miles – about a quarter of the original amount.
According to a new report from the United States Geological Survey, which is leading a $20 million study of a new water diversion project, this change is the result largely of the shrinking demand for water in California and Nevada. But it’s also because of what scientists call “hydrologic feedback,” where the falling water levels in the river are being blamed for the collapse of another water source – the northern Rocky Mountains glaciers.
This river diversion project would raise water levels in the river between Nevada and Mexico, according to the report – and would raise water levels in the northern Rocky Mountains up to 7 feet, making the water much more available for farming and other uses.
“It’s an extraordinary project that is supposed be started in a few months, where you get a huge amount of water at a little cost,” said Gary Sullins, vice president of the Western Water Association, a large water-management organization. “This doesn’t have anything to do with the Colorado River Basin Commission, it doesn’t have to do with the federal government. It comes from the federal government and the state of Nevada. This is a project that only Nevada – and hopefully, Nevada will get on board with it – will control.”
But, he said, “as you know, the federal government is not going to pick winners and losers. There are too many factors – and this is the worst one.”
“The water diversion itself is not going to lower flow, it doesn’t control water use,” Sullins said.