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More Need Than Ever for Drought Resilience on the Colorado River

The effects of climate change are already cutting deeply into the lifeblood of the U.S. West—the Colorado River.
April 27, 2021, 11am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Colorado River

Ian James reports on the state of the Colorado River after more than two decades of scientists have decided is a "megadrought." The water level of Lake Mead has fallen 130 feet since 2000, and the reservoir is at 39 percent of capacity. The reservoir will soon have less water than any time since the Hoover Dam started filling the lake in the 1930s.

"The latest projections from the federal government show the reservoir will soon fall more feet to cross the trigger point for a shortage in 2022, forcing the largest mandatory water cutbacks yet in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico," reports James The lack of rainfall throughout the West and a meager snowpack in the Rocky Mountains could cause even more severe shortages and water supply cuts the next year, too, according to James.

James has more frightening details to share:

While the Southwest has always cycled through wet and dry periods, some scientists suggest the word "drought" is no longer entirely adequate and that the Colorado River watershed is undergoing “aridification” driven by human-caused warming — a long-term trend of more intense dry spells that’s here for good and will complicate water management for generations to come.

The article also includes coverage of the ongoing efforts to manage the Colorado River as it changes due to climate change, including the  Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), signed by seven states along the river in 2019. "Arizona and Nevada agreed to take the first cuts to help prop up Lake Mead, while California agreed to participate at lower shortage levels if the reservoir continues to drop," reports James. Arizona is in line for the largest cuts under the DCP.

The Biden administration also recently announced an interagency working group to support farmers, tribes, and other communities most impacted by water shortages.

Technology is also being deployed in the effort, reports James, including the use of artificial intelligence for scenario planning in the Colorado River Basin, led by Laura Condon, an assistant professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona.

Full Story:
Published on Friday, April 23, 2021 in Arizona Republic
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