Managing the Colorado River to use less, rather than take more

In the summer of 1931, as the Bureau of Reclamation was launching work on Hoover Dam, flows on the Colorado River dropped to what, at the time, were low flows unprecedented in the few decades’ records on the river. In retrospect it should have been a clue that there was not going to reliably be …

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Acting like the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan is Done

LAS VEGAS, NV – When I stopped at Boulder Harbor on Lake Mead Tuesday morning as I drove into Las Vegas, I saw this field of salt cedar taking hold on what had been a mud flat left by Mead’s declining water levels. It’s a clumsy metaphor for what happens when you get comfortable with …

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Lake Mead: 61 percent empty or 39 percent full?

LAS VEGAS, NV – “Dry for Decades,” the tourist placard at Hoover Dam’s Nevada spillway says. “The last time the waters of the Colorado River flowed through this spillway was in 1983.” On my way to this year’s annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association, I spent some time yesterday at Hoover Dam …

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We need to come to terms with the fact that we’re using less water

tl;dr Western water policy and politics has to come to grips with the fact that overall water use is declining, not rising, as populations and economies grow. The longer version…. Two years ago, when I was deeply immersed in the act of writing my book, I had an incredibly important conversation with Emily Turner, my …

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New USGS data shows municipal water use, including in the West, continues to decline

The latest USGS data on water use by U.S. municipalities shows a continued decline, despite a growing population. This not just a decline in per capita use, though it is that. But per capita use continues to drop faster than population is rising in most areas. Brett Walton has a nice summary of the findings, …

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When people have less water, they use less water

Consumptive use of Colorado River water by the states of the Lower Basin (Nevada, California, and Arizona) is on track this year to be at its lowest since 1986. This graph, which I put together this weekend for a talk I’m giving at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum at Colorado Mesa University in …

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“the Eden of all bass fishermen”

One of my favorite bits of business that never made it into my Colorado River book was a late afternoon encounter at Lake Mead’s Boulder Harbor boat ramp with a guy named Scotty. I was thinking about Scotty when I came across the image below, in a 1946 Bureau of Reclamation report on the development …

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More evidence that climate change is reducing the Colorado River’s flow

Scientists for many years have projected a decline in the Colorado River’s flow as a result of a warming climate. But it’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve begun to see evidence that this is already happening. The system has a lot of natural variability, so detecting the relatively smaller impact of …

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Fish returning to the Fraser in one of Colorado’s high mountain valleys

An example of what can happen when folks stop fighting over water and search for common ground paths: Now, instead of a wide shallow creek, the low-flow Fraser River drops into a narrow channel that allows to run deeper, faster and colder. That led to a nearly immediate rebound in the fish population, according to …

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Looking for flexibility within Arizona

Arizona’s current internal political struggles over allocation and management of shortage on the Colorado River illustrate a central dilemma in the basin’s transition from the era of managing development of the river’s water to the era of managing scarcity. While we generally have demonstrated the ability to use less water across a range of water …

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