Colorado River Is Drying Up Due To Climate Change. Now, Millions Could Face Water Shortage

Colorado River Is Drying Up Due To Climate Change. Now, Millions Could Face Water Shortage

Scientists fear that climate change could severely affect the water source for nearly 40 million people who are dependent on the Colorada River.

Image source: Getty Images/ Dean Fikar (Creative)

A popular Chinese proverb is that “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” This rings true even for tackling climate change. Last year, we witnessed the Amazon rainforests burning, losing most of its biodiversity to raging wildfires. There have been many reports of cruise ships dumping their waste into the oceans killing marine life. Temperatures have been soaring in many parts of the world due to global warming, and this is truly a reality check for most who still do not believe climate change is real. 




Now, it seems climate change could impact the water source for nearly 40 million people who live from Denver to Los Angeles. According to CNN, the Colorado River is slowly drying up with nearly 20 percent lesser flow compared to the last century. Scientists are now blaming climate change for this alarming situation. The study published in the journal Science on Thursday was conducted by US Geological Survey scientists Chris Milly and Krista A. Dunne. They have noted that there has to be a sense of urgency to protect one of the nation's most important rivers before it is too late. 



The study found that due to increasing periods of drought and rising temperatures, there was a loss of snow in the Colorado River basin. They noted that this was due to the human-induced global heating that led to the increasing amount of water lost in evaporation. The 1,450-mile waterway has been severely affected due to a phenomenon called albedo which is a measure of how much light hits a surface and reflects without being absorbed. The loss of albedo as snow and ice melt away reduces the river's flow by 9.5 percent for each 1-degree Celsius of warming.

Brad Udall, a senior climate scientist at Colorado State University, says that the flow of Colorado River has been reduced to a trickle by the time it reaches the Gulf of California. It starts at the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and the water is diverted to many cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas, and San Diego.  

Image Source: Getty Images/ Dean Fikar (Creative)


Udall has been studying the river basin for nearly three decades. Udall had also been working along with the researchers, however, he wasn't involved in this project. He was quoted as saying by The Guardian: “This has important implications for water users and managers alike. More broadly, these results tell us that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we possible can. We’ve wasted nearly 30 years bickering over the science. The science is crystal clear – we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.”

The researchers also noted that the Colorado river supports nearly $1 trillion of economic activity each year. "Without this river, American cities in the Southwest would dry up and blow away," Udall added.




Due to a severe drought that went on for nearly the last two decades, the river's flow has diminished. This has left its two main reservoirs  Lake Powell and Lake Mead barely half full. According to the CNN report, the water from the Colorado River has been a longstanding issue for seven states that receives the water and relies on it for day-to-day life. 




Udall also spoke to Newsweek exclusively and said the results "strongly suggest that future Colorado River flows will trend strongly downward as temperatures warm in the 21st century, potentially catastrophically." Udall continued, "these findings apply to almost every area that is dependent on snowpack, which is basically the entire West." "In the Colorado River Basin, when you touch water, you touch everything—our economy, our culture, our environment. Flow losses will impact U.S. agriculture, all aspects of our economy including world-class Rocky Mountain tourism and our way of life," he added.

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