10:20am

Wed May 29, 2013
Colorado River

As Drought Plagues Colorado River Basin, Water Officials Look for Answers

Water officials met in California Tuesday to discuss how to deal with looming shortages in the Colorado River basin.
Credit Colorado River Water Conservation District

Water officials are laying out a plan for meeting the growing demands of the Colorado River in the future. The group met yesterday in California. The meeting was prompted by a study out last year. It predicts looming shortages on the River, which supplies water to 40 million people, as well as farmers and ranchers in Western states. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen has more.

In December, the Bureau of Reclamation released a study warning drought, climate change and population growth are quickly depleting resources in the Colorado River. The report predicted a grim scenario of rising demands coupled with shrinking supplies in the coming decades.

Jim Pokrandt with the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River District says Tuesday’s meeting was meant to lay the groundwork for a path forward: "As with any study, does it sit on the shelf and gather dust, and everybody says, ‘atta boy,’ and we move on? Or, does something actually happen? In this case, something may actually happen." The report lays out “next steps” for the seven states that rely on the River. It’s their job to understand what’s working and what’s not, and find solutions. Anne Castle is the U.S. Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. She spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in San Diego. She was joined by dozens of stakeholders including representatives for the seven Colorado Basin States and Indian tribal leaders. Castle says the steps forward include a set of committees. "What we’re doing is setting up three different work groups that will look at first, municipal conservation and reuse, second, agricultural conservation and transfers, and the third will look at flows for a healthy environment," she says. The work groups are looking at savings achieved so far through water conservation measures...and, they’ll find out if additional work is needed. Several of the West’s largest water utilities responded to yesterday’s call for action. Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead says cities use a relatively small percentage of Colorado River water, and his organization has already made strides in water efficiency. But, he adds, the conservation work will continue. The work groups are scheduled to finish the first phase of their action plan by the end of 2013, which could be the fourth driest year in the Colorado River basin in the past 100 years. Last year was the fifth driest.