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Colorado River's Water Supply Drops to Crisis Levels

Lowered by a two-decade drought while providing water to 40 million people, the Southwest's all-important Colorado River is running dry.
Colorado River's Water Supply Drops to Crisis Levels

Hydroelectric turbines may stop turning, Las Vegas and Phoenix may be forced to restrict water usage or growth, and farmers might cease growing some crops, leaving fields of lettuce and melons to turn to dust. Those are a few of the dire consequences that could result if states, cities and farms across the American West cannot agree on how to cut the amount of water they draw from the Colorado River, reports the Associated Press.  

Crisis looms without big cuts to over-tapped Colorado River (Associated Press)

Excerpt from the Associated Press: For years, seven states that depend on the river have allowed more water to be taken from it than nature can replenish. Despite widespread recognition of the crisis, the states missed a deadline this week to propose major cuts that the federal government has said are necessary. And again, the government failed to force harsh decisions and stopped short of imposing the cuts on its own, despite previous threats to do so. The river, which cascades from the Rockies down to the deserts of the Southwest, quenches the thirst of 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico and sustains a $15 billion-a-year agricultural industry. But for a century, agreements governing how it’s shared have been based on faulty assumptions about how much water is available. With climate change making the region hotter and drier, that discrepancy is becoming impossible to ignore.
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According to CBS News, the drought-stricken Colorado River is in critical condition. Last summer, the federal government declared the first ever shortage on the river, triggering cuts to water supplies in the Southwest. Since then, things have only gotten worse.

Southwest states facing tough choices about water as Colorado River diminishes (CBS News)

Excerpt from CBS News: The Colorado is the lifeblood of the region. It waters some of the country's fastest growing cities, nourishes some of our most fertile fields, and powers 1.4 trillion dollars in annual economic activity. The river runs more than 1,400 miles, from headwaters in the Rockies to its delta in northern Mexico where it ends in a trickle. Seven states and 30 Native American tribes lie in the Colorado River Basin. As we first reported in October, the river has been running dry due to the historically severe drought. The majestic, meandering Colorado River that cut through these red cliffs, carving the Grand Canyon, is a wonder of nature and human ingenuity. The Glen Canyon Dam created Lake Powell and 300 miles down river Lake Mead sits behind the Hoover Dam. These reservoirs are now being sucked dry by 40 million different straws - that's the number of people in booming western states who depend on the Colorado to quench their thirst, power their homes, water lawns and splash in the sun. Its waters irrigate farms that produce 90% of the country's winter greens. To all these demands add the stress of a 22 year drought - as dry as any period in 1,200 years - and you have a river in crisis.
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As the seven states and Mexico struggle to agree on plans to shore up the Colorado River and its shriveling reservoirs, retired engineer Don Siefkes of San Leandro, California, wrote a letter to the Desert Sun with what he said was a solution to the West's water woes: build an aqueduct from the Old River Control Structure to Lake Powell, 1,489 miles west, to refill the Colorado River system with Mississippi River water.

Pipe dream or possible? Experts weigh in on idea of sending Mississippi River water to West (Desert Sun)

Excerpt from the Desert Sun: Two hundred miles north of New Orleans, in the heart of swampy Cajun country, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1963 cut a rogue arm of the Mississippi River in half with giant levees to keep the main river intact and flowing to the Gulf of Mexico. The Old River Control Structure, as it was dubbed, is also the linchpin of massive but delicate locks and pulsed flows that feed the largest bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands in the United States, outstripping the better-known Okefenokee Swamp that straddles Georgia and Florida. "Citizens of Louisiana and Mississippi south of the Old River Control Structure don’t need all that water. All it does is cause flooding and massive tax expenditures to repair and strengthen dikes," wrote Siefkes. Engineers say the pipeline idea is technically feasible. But water experts said it would likely take at least 30 years to clear legal hurdles to such a plan. And biologists and environmental attorneys said New Orleans and the Louisiana coast, along with the interior swamplands, need every drop of muddy Mississippi water.
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