Most Endangered River Provides Water to 40 Million Residents
By Joe Guzzardi
At a June 14 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting, environmentalists warned that the Colorado River’s reservoir level drop might bring dramatic cuts to water deliveries provided to the seven states dependent on the river. Those states are Colorado, California, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and Nevada. Alarmingly, given its importance, the conservation group American Rivers ranked the Colorado as No. 1 on its list of the nation’s most endangered rivers.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton told the committee that maintaining “critical levels” at the largest reservoirs in the U.S. – Lake Mead and Lake Powell – will require large reductions in water deliveries. Touton advised the committee that, in the next two months, her agency is negotiating with the seven states that count on the Colorado River to develop a plan for apportioning the water supply reductions. The Reclamation Bureau is the federal agency charged with assisting the western states, Native American tribes and others to meet water needs. An estimated 40 million residents throughout the region rely on the Colorado for water.
The committee’s witnesses were unanimous in their predictions that acute water shortages are in the near-term future. John Entsminger, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s general manager, said that the slow-motion train wreck that’s been accelerating for 20 years has created “the moment of reckoning.” Said Entsminger, “We are 150 feet from 25 million Americans losing access to the Colorado River, and the rate of decline is accelerating.”
Because the Western United States is suffering through a relentless drought, analysts predict that next year the affected states will cope with a decrease of between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet of water. Scientific Americanreported that 2021’s exceptionally dry year created a record-breaking drought, or mega-drought. The last 20 years have been the driest two decades in the last 1,200 years. To date, 2022 is the driest year on record in California. Researchers predict with a 94 percent degree of certainty that California’s drought will continue for at least one more year.
University of Colorado, Boulder climate scientist Imtiaz Rangwala has observed drought conditions increasingly worsen in the western and central U.S. “The last two years have been more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 Celsius) warmer than normal in these regions. Large swaths of the Southwest have been even hotter, with temperatures more than 3 F (1.7 C) higher.”
But neither during the hearing nor in the media writeups was population growth in the seven western states mentioned. The 2000 populations for Colorado, California, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and Nevada were 4.3 million, 33.9 million, 1.8 million, 2.2 million, 494,000, 5.1 million and 2 million, respectively. And in 2022, the states’ populations are, respectively, 5.8 million, 39.5 million, 2.1 million, 3.3 million, 579,000, 7.6 million and 3.2 million. In slightly more than two decades, about 12 million more people have become dependent on the Colorado for water.
The link between more people and more water consumption is undeniable. Yet Congress, the White House, the media and academia refuse to have a rational discussion about reducing the flow of 1 million-plus legal immigrants which, with their offspring, drive population increases. Knowing that the nation’s western states are in a water crisis, opening the border to millions, as the Biden administration is doing, is ecological suicide. Nevertheless, the status quo on adding population continues on autopilot, consequences be damned.