The Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas, Nev., sold out for the first time ever this year, illuminating the magnitude of the water crisis across much of the Western U.S. — if the unprecedented low levels of Colorado River reservoirs and the dire warnings from the podium weren’t enough. A century of unrealistic water supply expectations and unsustainable water usage have overtaxed the Colorado River for decades, while the worst megadrought in 1,200 years is threatening to push the region over the edge of catastrophic impacts.
Federal officials have called on states to collaborate to cut their water consumption by 15% to 30%, an agreement preferable to federally-imposed cutbacks, but one states have been unable to commit to. More than 80% of Colorado River water is currently consumed by industrial agriculture. These factors combined with climate change, which made the megadrought 42% worse, could drop reservoirs at Lake Powell and Lake Mead to “dead pool” levels. This would not only cut off water to communities further downriver, but could also force the shutdown of hydroelectric power plants at the Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams. (LA Times $, AP, Washington Post $, E&E $, LA Times $)