U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the release of the study on Dec. 12, authorized by the U.S. Congress and jointly funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin States. Future water demands in the entire river basin were analyzed under hypothetical situations including population growth, potential savings from conservation and differing economic conditions. Overall, under each of these projected situations, the demand for consumptive uses of water from the Colorado River system is projected to range between 18.1 and 20.4 million acre-feet by 2060.
The projected supply of the river system was analyzed under supply scenarios taking into account historical hydrological records and the potential effects of climate change. Under the demand and supply analyses presented by the study, an average supply imbalance of 3.2 million acre-feet per year is expected by 2060.
One acre-foot of water is approximately the amount of water used by a single household in a year. The study projects that the largest increase in demand will come from municipal and industrial users, owing to population growth. The Colorado River Basin currently provides water to approximately 40 million people, a number that, according to the study, could nearly double – to 76.5 million people – by 2060, under a rapid growth scenario.
“We paired different supply scenarios with demands scenarios to see what the imbalances are,” said Colorado Water Conservation Board Section Chief Ted Kowalski, who served on the Basin Study Project team. “We can now compare those imbalances to a whole host of different metrics. We looked at specific metrics such as water supplies and water delivery systems and how likely they will be able to meet water demand based on 24 different supply imbalances.”
The study team reviewed approximately 160 options for dealing with the potential imbalances on a basin-wide level, submitted by participants, stakeholders in the system, and the general public during a general request for options between November 2011 and February 2012. These submissions were organized by the project team, and assembled into portfolios, representing a varied range of ideas and effectiveness for dealing with imbalances. Proposals include increasing water supply through reuse or desalination methods, and reducing demand through increased conservation and efficiency efforts. The scope of the study does not include a decision as to how future imbalances should or will be addressed.
The basin states have committed to remaining within the bounds of the “Law of the River,” the evolution of management and cooperation for governance of this resource, and the path forward in consideration of this study will remain a cooperative effort.
Kowalski said as the West moves into the future, the study – and the scenarios and options it presents – can function as a road map to, in a sense, in helping indicate when a demand scenario is a reality, and what actions it could require.
“We need to know when to start implementing some of our options,” Kowalski said. “We need to be realistic and reasonable as we go forward. We can use those time posts in the study to help us manage and meet our water supply demands in the future. This report puts all our options on the table to start talking about them now.”
And while the report offers a variety of scenarios that could actually occur in the river basin states, Kowalski said the water supply/demand imbalance that will likely occur will not be solved by any one solution.
The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to about 40 million people for municipal use. Supply water is used to irrigate nearly four million acres of land, and provides water for at least 22 Native American tribes, seven national wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas and 11 national parks. Hydropower facilities along the Colorado River provide more than 4,200 megawatts of generating capacity, helping meet the power needs of the West.
Throughout the course of the three-year study, eight interim reports were published to reflect technical developments and public input
“We recognize that the potential size of the problem is so large that no one thing will solve all our problems,” Kowalski said. “We will need to explore things like desalination. Everything will be on the table. There is no silver bullet. It’s going to require everyone being willing to roll up their sleeves and look at our options, take the politics out of it, and explore some of the solutions.”
The report was authorized by the 2009 SECURE Water Act and, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle is one of a number of ongoing basin studies that the federal agency a part of.
“These analyses pave the way for stakeholders in each basin to come together and determine their own water destiny,” Castle said. “This study is a call to action, and we look forward to continuing this collaborative approach as we discuss next steps.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said the report shows the need for communities in the West to explore innovative ways to better manage water to meet rising water demands.
“From our earliest days through today, the Colorado River has run through our state and the lives of countless Westerners,” Udall said in a release. “This report underlines that we must find creative and innovative ways to meet growing residential, agricultural and industrial demands for water while respecting the Law of the River. The report lays out a variety of options to address projected water shortfalls in the basin – shortfalls driven, in part, by climate change – and I commend the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven basin states for their work. I look forward to working with the states, the administration, Congress and others to determine our next steps.”
Of the study, Kowalski said, “It’s a 1500 page report. There is a lot of information there, and a lot of information for water managers to look at and digest. I expect we will have to roll out all this information to stakeholders, and then we can continue our conversations with them to determine which options we should be pursuing immediately and how.”
The complete study is available at http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy.htmland. More information can be obtained by contacting CWCB staff. In addition, the Colorado River basin states have signed a set of commitments following the release of this study, which are available at http://cwcb.state.co.us.