Water supply not likely to increase
By John Hazlehurst
Every published analysis of the Colorado River’s future flows predicts sharp declines, and the predictions might already be coming to fruition.
During the last eight years, the river’s flow has averaged 55 percent of normal — a level which, if sustained, will require dramatic reductions from all users.
The most recent study of future flows on the river, authored by Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken and NOAA scientist Klaus Wolter, concludes that “the Southwest appears to be entering a new drought era” and “even several of the wetter runs yield increasing drought due to the overwhelming effect of the heat-related moisture loss.”
The study shows a dramatic decrease in the natural flow of the Colorado River to an average of 10 million acre-feet for the next 25 years and 7 million acre-feet annually from 2035 to 2060.
As Eric Kuhn of the Colorado River Water Conservancy said this spring, it would be the height of folly to invest billions of dollars in water diversion and storage projects on the Colorado River because the water might not be ours to develop.
That’s because the water diverted and impounded in any new project would be junior in right to every other user. In the event of a drought declaration by the U.S. secretary of the interior, the project might simply be shut down, and the water allowed to flow downstream, to satisfy the rights of the Lower Basin states.
But even if a drought emergency is never formally declared, it seems likely that the 1922 Colorado River Compact will have to be revised to accommodate the new realities of water in the Colorado River Basin.
Such a revision would reduce allocations, both actual and prospective, to all states, making any new project moot.