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Sat May 29, 2021, 05:28 PM

Science Editorial: Managing Colorado River Risk.

An editorial in the current issue of Science: Managing Colorado River risk (John Fleck and Brad Udall, Science 28 May 2021: Vol. 372, Issue 6545, pp. 885)

It should be open sourced; I didn't need to log in to my subscription to read it. Some excerpts anyway.

In the 1920s, E. C. LaRue, a hydrologist at the United States Geological Survey, did an analysis of the Colorado River Basin that revealed the river could not reliably meet future water demands. No one heeded his warning. One hundred years later, water flow through the Colorado River is down by 20% and the basin's Lake Powell and Lake Mead—the nation's two largest reservoirs—are projected to be only 29% full by 2023. This river system, upon which 40 million North Americans in the United States and Mexico depend, is in trouble. But there is an opportunity to manage this crisis. Water allocation agreements from 2007 and 2019, designed to deal with a shrinking river, will be renegotiated over the next 4 years. Will decision-makers and politicians follow the science?

It has been said that climate change is water change. Globally, the effects on rivers vary widely, from increased risk of flooding in some places, to short-run increases in river flows in others as glaciers melt and catastrophes ensue once the glaciers are gone. The only constant is change, and our inability to rely on the way rivers used to flow. Like many snowmelt-fed rivers, for the Colorado this translates into less water for cities, farms, and the environment.

Research published over the past 5 years makes the threat clear. Run-off efficiency—the percentage of rain and snow that ends up as river water—is down, with half the decline since 2000 attributed to greenhouse-driven warming. For every 1°C of warming, researchers expect another 9% decline in the Colorado's flow. This year's snowpack was 80% of average but is delivering less than 30% of average river flows. Hot, dry summers bake soils, reducing flows the following year. The Colorado is not unusual. Researchers have identified similar patterns in other North American rivers, as well as in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia...

...As the basin's water management community prepares for a new round of negotiations over the water allocation rules, how bad of a “worst case scenario” should be considered and who will get less water as a result? It is tempting to use today's 20% flow decline as the new baseline—that is, modeling future reductions on the basis of what has already been observed. But only by planning for even greater declines can we manage the real economic, social, and environmental risks of running low on a critical resource upon which 40 million North Americans depend.

The United States and Mexico—not just America's West and Southwest—can't afford to get this wrong...


In my opinion, we have already gotten the Colorado wrong.

This is going to end with desalination, and I'm quite sure they'll be all kinds of talk about "renewable energy" even has hydroelectricity literally dries up. The reality is that the desalination will be driven by dangerous fossil fuels, further accelerating the death of the river.

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Reply Science Editorial: Managing Colorado River Risk. (Original post)
NNadir May 29 OP
eppur_se_muova May 29 #1
NNadir May 29 #2

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 05:53 PM

1. Been wondering what's going to break in the SW ever since reading "Cadillac Desert" ...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadillac_Desert (though IIRC, I saw part of the documentary on TV before reading the book).

I find this statement a little strange .... "and Mexico ... can't afford to get this wrong...". I thought it had been true for some time that the Colorado River doesn't really flow through Mexico anymore, and have seen some video evidence of that. According to Wikipedia,
Intensive water consumption has dried up the lower 100 miles (160 km) of the river, which has rarely reached the sea since the 1960s.[7][9][10]

caption: Colorado River as it exits the United States into Mexico beneath the San Luis Colorado-Colonia Miguel Aléman Bridge (September 2009)

Don't really see that Mexico can do anything, other than continue to do without, which the USA has forced Mexico to accept as the only option.

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Response to eppur_se_muova (Reply #1)

Sat May 29, 2021, 07:14 PM

2. Yeah that struck me as a little weird too. The destruction of the Colorado Delta system has...

...been forgotten, but it was a very real tragedy.

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