GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Planners and engineers in the Colorado River Basin say a parched future could be in store for the region during the next 50 years as they prepare for a seven-state meeting in Las Vegas next week.
Senior Colorado River District water resources engineer David Kanzer said Tuesday communities in the basin are living beyond their means. He says it is worse for river communities downstream.
Planners and engineers have spent three years and $4 million to forecast water supply and demand scenarios from now through 2060, and they say the consequences could be dire for the river with headwaters in Colorado.
“The bottom line is, demand is ahead of supply. We are living beyond our means, and the gap is greatest in the Lower Basin,” Kanzer said.
Kanzer presented a summary of the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study to the Colorado River District’s 15-member board during the board’s quarterly meeting on Tuesday in Glenwood Springs, hoping to come up with a negotiation strategy before the Las Vegas summit. The public was not invited.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Bureau of Reclamation officials have warned that the Colorado River’s historical 15 million acre-feet per year flow has been reduced by 12 years of drought to about 12 million acre-feet.
Officials say an acre-foot can meet the water needs of up to two families per year.
Water interests and the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming together lay claim to all the water in the river and then some.
Officials are concerned the river won’t be able over the next 50 years to meet demands of a regional population now about 40 million and growing.
Mexico also has a stake in the river, and officials set new rules to share Colorado River water south of the border and let Mexico store water in Lake Mead near Las Vegas.
According to The Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the study is an effort to face up to a future in which millions more people, along with farms and industry, will be fighting for the limited supplies. Kanzer said by 2060, the gap is expected to be as much as 8 million acre-feet a year.
In the meantime, water regulators are trying to educate the public about the water shortfall that Western states will face.