Is there enough water available in the Colorado River Basin (CRB) to meet all our current and future needs and obligations? According to my synthesis of information from the 7th Annual Upper Colorado River Basin Forum on November 1-2, 2017, consider this:
· Currently about 40 million people depend on CRB water for agriculture, domestic, and recreational supplies
· The 1922 compact with 7 states overestimated supplies so now the CRB is overallocated
· The federal government (Bureau of Reclamation) requires adequate reservoir levels for hydroelectric generation and could override the 1922 compact
· States are developing Drought Contingency Plans with improved efficiencies increasing supply
· Efficient applications of drip irrigation and native plants are encouraged but not yet required
· A US treaty with Mexico attempts to deliver some water that historically flowed to the ocean
· Farmers consume about 90% of CRB water and have some of the oldest priority water rights
· Some farmers are reluctant to conserve in fear of losing water rights and money
· Colorado water law of beneficial use makes the “use-it or lose-it” mentality illegal
· In Colorado, about 70% of water originates in the Western Slope with only 30% of the population while 30% of the water originates in the Eastern Slope (including Denver) with 70% of the population
· Denver’s population is expected to double in roughly 30 years so demand is increasing
· Trans-mountain diversions and priority water rights can allow the Eastern Slope to take much more than current amounts
· Wyoming is building new reservoirs (“water banking”) on the Green River
· In New Mexico, the Elephant Butte reservoir near Albuquerque almost went dry during recent droughts which had to be channelized and loses 250,000 acre-feet to evaporation when at capacity
· Most vegetables in US are grown in the Imperial Valley of California using CRB water
· The recent 5-year drought resulted in many farms going dry (crops were fallowed)
· Beyond CRB for human consumption, recreationists (boating, fishing, etc.) demand more supply
· The climate is changing and resulting in more variability making long term predictions difficult
So is there enough water available in the Colorado River Basin (CRB) to meet all our current and future needs and obligations? I would say currently no and optimistically with significant changes in the amounts of water that we consume there is the potential for saying yes.
The forum provided great examples of techniques to measure and forecast water supplies. I suggested to the organizers for next year that additional consideration be given to water quality that is degrading or improving depending on many factors.
In summary, the Upper CRB Forum organized by Colorado Mesa University provides an incredibly valuable exchange of information in a non-confrontational environment that seeks to improve our understanding of the world we live in and how we can become better stewards of our environment.