The Colorado River provides water that supports more than 40 million Americans. Anyone living between Denver and Los Angeles, can most likely thank the massive river for a renewable and clean source of water. However, like most natural resources on Earth in 2020, climate change is beginning to take its toll.
Scientists have found that there has been a 20% decrease in the Colorado River’s flow within the 21st century, when compared to the rate at which the flow was decreasing last century; an issue that they are blaming climate change on. Researchers who worked on a recent study, posted last week in the Journal Science, found that more than 50% of the river’s flow decline is due to increasing global temperatures. This is becoming a major issue that will only get worse; the biggest concern being the extreme water shortage that scientists are predicting millions of individuals who rely on the river as a water source will endure within the coming years.
“For each 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming averaged across the river’s basin, its flow has decreased by nearly 10%. Over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries, the region has already warmed by an average of roughly 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The study also examined the impact that pollution and heat-trapping gases could have on the river’s water supply. Without any cuts to [these] emissions, the river’s discharge could shrink by between 19% and 31% by the middle of this century,” (National Climate Assessment).
The Colorado River is one of the most vital rivers in the United States because of how much land it covers, and how many people rely on it as a renewable resource. The river itself begins at a high altitude in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. It stretches throughout the Southwest of the U.S. and ends up in the Gulf of California. However, according to the study, by the time the river gets to California its reduced down to nothing more than a trickle of water.
On its journey from the mountains down to the golden state, the river makes a few detours to supply fresh water to cities like Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix, and a multitude of farms that reach all the way down to Mexico. If the river continues to slow down, a majority of these places will be left at serious risk for drought, and will likely dry up.
According to the study, “Global warming is taking a severe toll on the snowpack that feeds the river, the scientists found. As temperatures increase, snow cover in the region is declining, meaning less energy from the sun is reflected back into space and more warms the ground as heat. This triggers a vicious cycle that leads to even more evaporation and therefore, less water supply.”
Increasing global temperatures has also already had a multitude of negative effects on the planet, obviously, that have already begun affecting the river as well. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are two of the Colorado river’s main reservoir sources, and they both are currently half full, to what’s considered their normal/sustainable volume of water, due to a 20-year-long severe drought brought on by climate change.
In total, seven states rely on the river for water. Last year, the federal government reached an agreement regarding the rights of the river and how it should be governed within the next decade or so; the deal will protect the river until 2026, and negotiations are scheduled to take place at some point this year to determine which sectors of the river are the driest, and thus need to greatest protections/rehabilitation efforts.
In general, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions brought on by new technology, federal policies, and true systematic/economic change will help reverse the extensive damage this river has endured, as well as protect the rest of the planet from the massive amounts of destruction it’s already been through thanks to humanities ignorance on global warming.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.