Watch Live: Tipping Point – The Colorado River Basin

I’m heading to Phoenix tomorrow (Wed. Nov. 10) to appear on what I hope will be a useful PBS Newshour live event:

The Colorado River runs nearly fifteen hundred miles, winding through seven states and Mexico. It supplies drinking water to nearly 40 million people, irrigates nearly 4 million acres of farmland and attracts millions of nature lovers to scenic Grand Canyon vistas.

And it is on the brink.

A 20 year mega-drought — exacerbated by climate change — is squeezing the Colorado dry. It’s a crisis for the people of the Southwest and a “canary in the coal mine” for us all.

Join PBS NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien for a special hour-long live event exploring the relationship between climate change and the fate of the Colorado River Basin.

Hosted live from Phoenix, the program will foster a solutions-based dialog with leaders in areas of science, agriculture, municipal water, Native American communities and conservation.


  1. The “canary in the coal mine” is an apt but terrifying analogy. Let’s hope people will finally listen.

  2. Really wanted to hear this, but we were traveling when it was supposed to be live. Will there be a recording available?



  3. Bryan:

    i just watched it.

    i was surprised by the question about how much water the recent storms brought to the table. that answer is knowable and discoverable. just for one resevoir alone it brought almost 200,000af of water. but like John said it takes more than one storm to provide the full recharge.

    to another aspect of the conversation that was not really addressed well:

    the key point the upper basin states must address is that their water use is much more and can be radically improved. look at the water use in any large city in the upper basin. that tells you what you need to know and also where much work remains to be done. conservation will provide much of what they need for now – they just have to do the work that many in the lower basin have already been doing (and continue to do) – aside from desal.

    desal in the middle of the desert only gets you so far, what are you going to do with the waste water? mine minerals for some of it but you still end up with pollutants and salts that are not wanted at all and perhaps cannot be easily disposed of.

  4. p.s. it is really too bad that they don’t have comments turned on there as i would post all of this there too. 🙁

  5. @Songbird: “look at the water use in any large city in the upper basin.”

    The vast, overwhelming use of water in the Colorado Basin, as well as the Rio Grande Basin, is irrigated agriculture. The cities could reduce their water use to zero and it would still not completely forestall the problems if the current drought continues. This is not to say that we should not attempt to make residental, commercial, retail and power generation usage of water as efficient as possible, but we have to recognize where the heart of the problem is: the early 20th pipe dream that the southwest could be “reclaimed” into some sort of agriculture miracle.

  6. As usual, I’m late in making a comment here. It’s been a busy month for me. My takeaway? I loved the responses from the lady water manager (when asked) about future development. I thought of the expansion in the West end of the Valley, the San Tan Valley and elsewhere. Her response was, “We’re going to build up…Not out.” She wasn’t asked the hard question of Phoenix’s population growth. I heard somewhere (but haven’t been able to corroborate it on the Internet) that the metro Phoenix population grows at the rate of 300 people a day. Each and every of these people use water. Nothing was mentioned about the present and future population growth and the sustainable water usage.

    My other noted response came from the Farmer from Yuma that boasted how well they have improved crop production to water usage. His final comments about water usage was on the lines of the cost of food being affordable. Nothing about general consumption. He didn’t mention that he gets multiple crops from the same fields in the same year due to a growing season of +300 days. How many cuttings of Alfalfa can they get? According to the Arizona Farm Bureau, 9 to 10 cuttings per year. Most of this crop is flood irrigated. That adds up to a lot of water. We should be rethinking how (efficiency methods) and when (time of day) we should water the fields.

    My final takeaways from the discussion was nobody mentioned water usage from different sources as a whole but focused on total usage as a whole. Water comes from two sources. Ground and surface water. The discussion focused on surface water but should have been addressing both sources.

    The last takeaway that wasn’t mentioned was the ‘government’s responsibility’ in the situation. As it was mentioned throughout the discussession, the Stakeholders have to make accommodations and cooperate for the shared resources. The government end of the deal is making sure that they do their responsibilities. I could never really understand the disconnect between water policies at the different levels of government. The local level of government making the final call on population growth or water allocations.

    Of course, people are focused on climate change and a shrinking river. There are more issues than that with water in Arizona.

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