The state of the Colorado River is less dire than a year ago, federal officials said Tuesday, but substantial climate- and over-consumption-driven challenges remain. The Bureau of Reclamation — a division of DOI that implements agreements made by states, tribes, and other stakeholders — said heavy rain and snow over the winter have eased the crisis slightly, meaning that cuts to state water usage will be eased somewhat. But the river, and the overall hydrological system, are still stressed by climate change-fueled heat and drought, as well as fundamentally unsustainable assumptions of water availability.
Between 70% and 80% of all water in the Colorado River basin is used for large-scale agriculture. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two biggest Colorado River reservoirs, are still only about 39% and 33% full, respectively.
“If we want to keep the reservoirs functioning – which is a very wise thing to do – you need to reduce consumption by 15 to 20%,” Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, told CNN. “But you’ve got to acknowledge that climate change is going to make the situation worse, and in the future, we’re going to have to reduce consumption even more.” (BOR assessment: AP, Denver Post, Inside Climate News, CNN, KUNC, Arizona Republic, The Hill; Overpeck: CNN)