Despite Good Snow, Colorado River Rationed

In mid-August, the Bureau of Reclamation activated mandatory reductions in the amount of water that Arizona, Nevada and Mexico can take out of the Colorado River in 2020.

Despite heavy snow across much of the Rocky Mountains this past winter that raised Lake Powell’s levels by more than 50 feet, Lake Mead is projected to sit just below a threshold that triggers the cuts. “While we appreciate this year’s above-average snowpack, one good year doesn’t mean the drought is over. We must remain vigilant,” federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said.

In a wonderfully in-depth piece from the Arizona Republic, Ian James explored the Colorado River’s recent past, present and future. For example, “the river’s flow from 2000-2019 has decreased by about 17% from the 20th-century average, and climate models point to even drier conditions as the world continues to heat up due to greenhouse gases.

In one study, climate scientists Brad Udall and Dr. Jonathan Overpeck used climate models to estimate a business-as-usual scenario of greenhouse gas emissions. They projected that without changes in precipitation, warming will likely cause the Colorado River’s flow to decrease by 35% or more by the end of the century.”

John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program, is right when he says, “It will only get harder.

Welcome to the 21st century in the West.