The water shortage in the West is very real and is intensifying year after year. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California, and Nevada all receive water from the Colorado River, and are seeing a marked decrease in their water supplies due to the ongoing drought that has gripped most of the Western U.S.
We are 150 feet from 25 million Americans losing access to the Colorado River, and the rate of decline is accelerating."
"What has been a slow-motion train wreck for 20 years is accelerating, and the moment of reckoning is near," John Entsminger, General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, stated to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last month.
"We are 150 feet from 25 million Americans losing access to the Colorado River, and the rate of decline is accelerating." Entsminger was referring to the remaining serviceable water depth of Lake Mead which serves Arizona, California, and Nevada. Lake Mead's volume is now at a mere 36% of its full capacity, and its water level has dropped 143 feet since 2000.
Now the entire water supply system of the Colorado River Basin — and the tens of millions who depend on it — is at risk of collapse as a result of a warming, drying climate reducing the amount of water available, and incessant population growth increasing the number of "straws" (or pipes and pumps) sucking on that diminishing pool of water. Growing demands are being placed on a shrinking resource.
Our leaders need to confront the slow-motion crisis being exacerbated by the sheer magnitude of people drawing upon the Colorado River. Arizona gained 884,000 people between 2010 and 2021, in addition to Colorado's 783,000 and California's two million. Nevada and Utah also grew considerably. And there's no end in sight. The Census Bureau projects America's population will grow by another 75 million in the next 40 years, with roughly 90% of that caused by immigration.
40 million people (and growing) rely on the beleaguered Colorado River and its tributaries for domestic and agricultural use. Arid regions throughout the West will have millions more people, fewer farms, more expensive water, devastated riverine ecosystems, and an increasingly parched landscape.
Our national study cites a 2016 Environmental Impact Statement that offers a more hopeful alternative:
If the population were not growing so robustly, then savings from widespread implementation of water conservation and efficiency would allow more water to be retained in — rather than withdrawn from — aquatic ecosystems. This in turn would benefit the flora and fauna of these natural systems as well as restoring and enhancing the diminished levels of ecosystem services they currently furnish to society."
JEREMY BECK is a V.P., Deputy Director for NumbersUSA