Yo! Over here! Not much water in the Colorado River! What should we do?

The folks working on the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study last week published a striking new graph (figure 2 in this pdf) pointing out our dilemma:

Colorado River supply and demand, historical and projected

Colorado River supply and demand, historical and projected, courtesy USBR

It’s an attempt to splice together the latest version of the Bureau’s now-ubiquitous graph of historical supply and demand with the latest projections from the agency’s ongoing Supply and Demand Study. The crisp-looking bits to the left of the dotted line are what we know has already happened. Note the supply and demand curves converging in the late ’90s as Arizona finally starts using its share of Colorado River water. The fuzzy bits to the right of the dotted line, as the curves diverge, are the sternly caveated projections starting to squeeze out of the Supply and Demand Study.

In brief:

  • Demand: 17 million acre feet by 2035, 18 million acre feet by 2060
  • Supply: 15 million acre feet by 2035, 14.4 million acre feet by 2060

You’ll note that the demand numbers are larger than the supply numbers. If you have any suggestions re fixing this, the Bureau would like to hear from you.




  1. Lots of suggestions.
    What power does the bureau have to do something?
    How are people likely to thwart this power?
    What are examples of similar dilemmas in the past? For instance, growing populations in the Netherlands and no more land or a more isolated case such as were presented in Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” in which the Greenlander’s died out but the people of New Guinea (I think) over centuries figured out a way to sustainability.
    The Greenlanders appeared to die out because they would not learn from the Inuit how to survive and because Greenland got colder. The people of the highlands of New Guinea (if I remember correctly), started to die out as they used up the local wood and then cut back on wood usage, farmed trees, and kept the population down.

  2. If you’re not following the process in Oz, John (I don’t recall relevant posts, at least not of late), this is the place.

    It’s interesting how after much shrieking the government seems to be ending up fixing the problem by just buying water rights. Irrigators, having had in the recent drought an invigorating look at one way things could go, seem not to be holding out for highway robbery prices.

    As noted in the link, environmental supply went from disastrous to a little less than sufficient in the course of the process. I expect that if environmental benchmarks aren’t met ultimately, the government will just buy up more water rights to make up the difference.

    I’m curious if our water bureaucrat munchkins see this as a likely outcome for the Sac’to and Colorado systems.

    Texas may also become interesting to look at this regard if the drought continues into next year. City folks will start paying close attention when their trees begin expiring.

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