Colorado River Water Crisis Deepens

The states that rely on the Colorado’s water must make drastic cuts in water usage to maintain use of the West’s most important—and most threatened—water source.

Read Time: 2 minutes

October 3, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Lake Mead 'bathtub ring'

Lake Mead's famous 'bathtub ring' now sits roughly 180 feet above the water line. | Michael Vi / Lake Mead, Colorado River

In a conversation with journalist Abrahm Lustgarten, NPR’s Dave Davies examines the worsening water crisis on the Colorado River and the difficult choices faced by residents and officials in the seven states affected. As Lustgarten explains, there is “a palpable sense of emergency when you visit those places.”

Lustgarten describes the as-yet-unsuccessful attempt by the states to come to an agreement on water conservation goals and strategies. “But in order to reach an agreement for how we share the Colorado River going forward, the states will probably need to abandon everything that they've held to in the past about how they use that water, about which industries are supported by it and how cities are grown by it,” Lustgarten asserts, going on to explain the complex nature of water rights in the American West.

According to Lustgarten, “Part of the water law that's pervasive across the West and especially in the upper basin, which includes Colorado, is a stipulation that your water rights are protected so long as you use them. And if you don't use them, then they could be jeopardized.” This has led to landowners sometimes wasting water to protect their long-term rights. Meanwhile, states have shown “an unwillingness to respond with the sense of urgency and at the scale that all of that data and science suggest is needed,” even as drastically low water levels threaten electricity production at the river’s major dams. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022 in NPR

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