This week, the Bureau of Reclamation released a report entitled “Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand,” and the news is not good. The Colorado River, which supplies water to seven states and a number of large, metropolitan areas (including Los Angeles and Phoenix), was selected as one of the first three basin studies approved by the Bureau in 2009. The report was prepared in order to “better define options for future water management of the Colorado River Basin, where climate change, record drought, population increases, and environmental needs have heightened competition for scare water supplies.”
The report concludes that water flow in the Colorado River basin will decrease by approximately 9% by 2050—due in large part to the effects of climate change. In a statement prepared in response to the report’s release, Dan Gorssman, Rocky Mountain Regional Director for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said, “The economic well-being of rural communities and major cities in the basin are inextricably linked to the environmental health of the Colorado River itself, and just as human health depends on healthy blood flow, the Colorado River’s health depends upon healthy water flows that are being compromised by current management practices and policies, as well as a warming climate.”
Only the first “Interim Report” was released today by the Bureau, which will release report #2 in the fall of this year, report #3 in the spring of 2012 and the final report in July of that same year. It includes Interim Report #1 released today, Interim Report #2 due in Fall 2011, Interim Report #3 due in Spring 2012, and the Final Study Report due in July 2012. So far, this first report has revealed that—based on historical observations, global climate change models, and “paleo-reconstructed streamflow records”—the region surround the Colorado River Basin can expect to experience “increases in the frequency and severity of droughts.”
EDF is pushing the Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado River Basin states to ensure that the study identifies solutions to the imbalance between supply and demand in the Basin while sustaining healthy river flows.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation’s website, the Final Study Report will “characterize current and future water supply and demand imbalances in the Basin and assess the risks to Basin resources. Resources include water allocations and deliveries consistent with the apportionments under the ‘Law of the River’; hydroelectric power generation; recreation; fish, wildlife, and their habitats (including candidate, threatened, and endangered species); water quality including salinity; flow and water dependent ecological systems; and flood control.”
“The Basin Study is an opportunity to take the long view, and to examine the full range of values society wants from the river,” said EDF’s Colorado River Project Director Jennifer Pitt, who testified last year at a congressional oversight hearing entitled: “Collaboration on the Colorado River: Lessons Learned to Meet Future Challenges.”
So what do you think? Do the results of studies based on historical data and climate models represent an opportunity to reexamine how we value our water resources? In the rush to fund infrastructure improvements and expand CWA regulatory authority over our waterways, are watersheds and river basins being overlooked? How far away are we from implementing a truly inclusive water resource management plan of action?