Significant Colorado River water supply gap projected by 2060

A new study released Wednesday forecasts a shortage of more than 3 million acre-foot in Colorado River water by 2060.

Demand for water will increase from an average 15.3 million acre-feet annually to between 18.1 million to 20.4 million acre-feet, according to the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to supply 2½ households for one year.

“It’s fair to say that the demand has already outstripped supplies within the lower basin,´ said Ted Kowalski, section chief for the Colorado Water Conservation Board who worked on the study.

Kowalski explained that demand in states in the lower river basin exceeds their entitlement to the river’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and Law of the River.

The nearly three-year study began in January 2010 as a joint effort of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and representatives of the Colorado River basin states.

A population in the basin states that could double to 35 million by 2060 will contribute to the increased water use and supply imbalance, Kowalski said. Additionally, climate change could lead to greater agricultural water consumption. Growing energy use also could stress water supplies.

The study looks at 160 options suggested by various groups concerned about the river to address the projected supply gap. Options include everything from new water storage to use of chemicals in reservoirs to reduce evaporation.

“There is no silver bullet, or easy answer to the supply and demand imbalances on the Colorado River,´ said Jennifer Gimbel, director of the Water Conservation Board. “The way forward is through cooperation with our neighbors, holistic management of the river and a varied portfolio of strategies.”

Northern Colorado receives a portion of its water from the Colorado River through the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

The study shows the need for Colorado and the West to explore innovative ways to better manage water to meet rising residential, agricultural and industrial demand, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said in a statement.

“The report lays out a variety of options to address projected water shortfalls in the basin — shortfalls driven, in part, by climate change — and I commend the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven basin states for their work,” Udall said. “I look forward to working with the states, the administration, Congress and others to determine our next steps.”

Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates said the study showed the need for conservation and reuse of water. The environmental group suggested that local and state governments mandate that all residential developments be built with high-efficiency shower-heads, faucets and toilets.

“The point of the Basin Study is to figure out how we can provide enough water for current and future residents,´ said Drew Beckwith, the conservation group’s water policy manager. “The sooner we get moving on conservation policies, the sooner we can start chipping away at that number; time is water.”


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