Dry Dry West

<p>This article from <em>National Geographic</em> looks at the increasing strain on the water supplying the western U.S.</p>
January 21, 2008, 10am PST | Nate Berg
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"The Colorado supplies 30 million people in seven states and Mexico with water. Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles, and San Diego all depend on it, and starting this year so will Albuquerque. It irrigates four million acres of farmland, much of which would otherwise be desert, but which now produces billions of dollars' worth of crops. Gauges first installed in the 19th century provide a measure of the flow of the river in acre-feet, one acre-foot being a foot of water spread over an acre, or about 326,000 gallons. Today the operation of the pharaonic infrastructure that taps the Colorado-the dams and reservoirs and pipelines and aqueducts-is based entirely on data from those gauges. In 2002 water managers all along the river began to wonder whether that century of data gave them a full appreciation of the river's eccentricities."

"The wet 20th century, the wettest of the past millennium, the century when Americans built an incredible civilization in the desert, is over. Trees in the West are adjusting to the change, and not just in the width of their annual rings: In the recent drought they have been dying off and burning in wildfires at an unprecedented rate. For most people in the region, the news hasn't quite sunk in. Between 2000 and 2006 the seven states of the Colorado basin added five million people, a 10 percent population increase. Subdivisions continue to sprout in the desert, farther and farther from the cities whose own water supply is uncertain. Water managers are facing up to hard times ahead. 'I look at the turn of the century as the defining moment when the New West began,' says Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. 'It's like the impact of global warming fell on us overnight.'"

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Published on Monday, January 21, 2008 in National Geographic
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