The Southwest is no stranger to water issues. Drought, contamination, and supply disputes have been a part of the region’s history for over a century. But as climate change takes an increasing toll on watersheds, rivers, and ecosystems, the water supply in the Colorado River Basin is under threat like never before.
Rapid changes to a water network make it difficult for public water authorities to respond quickly. It also becomes harder for authorities to guarantee both water supply and water quality. The more volatile the environment in a watershed, the more likely it is that contaminants and unwanted particles become dissolved into water and make it all the way to our taps.
Here’s a look at some of the issues currently facing the water supply in the Colorado River Basin, and why those living in the basin should be seriously considering taking extra steps to treat and filter their water.
What area does the Colorado River Basin cover?
The Colorado River Basin extends far beyond the state of Colorado and the Colorado River. In fact, the drainage basin is measured at about 246,000 square miles. Along with the rive itself, the basin begins in the Rocky Mountains and covers seven states, as well as Mexico: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona.
This means that some of the countries most well-known cities and biggest agricultural areas are reliant on the Colorado River for their water. These include Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, and Denver. Overall, an estimated forty million people source water from the basin.
Hasn’t the Colorado basin always had supply issues?
With so many industrial and urban areas using this natural resource, it’s no wonder that the health of the Colorado River has long been under threat. Now, it’s considered unusual if the river reaches the Gulf of California intact. Normally, the riverbed becomes dry many miles before the coast.
Over the decades, several government policies have been enacted to help preserve and protect the colorado river. Perhaps the most impactful policy was the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which was signed by the basin seven states to help portion out the supply between the upper and lower basin.
While a positive step towards sustainability in some ways, the Compact also led to some of the basin’s largest and most controversial construction projects. Engineering feats like the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams as certainly impressive, but most experts now consider them outdated, insufficient for the current population needs, and major stressors on the local environment.
What’s different now?
All of the historic pressures on water supply in the Colorado River Basin are now being magnified by two things: climate change and increasing populations.
At the moment, it’s estimated that the basin area is home to one in ten…