Economic Benefits Generated by the Colorado River

Economic Benefits Generated by the Colorado River

Based on a piece by the Nature Conservancy.

“If the river were to run dry, the Colorado River basin could face not only ecosystem collapse, but economic collapse, too.” 

This sentence says it all. If you’re not concerned about the ecosystem, the other thing you should be concerned about is the economy. Like the image above says: the Colorado River generates $1.4 trillion in economic benefits each year. That equals about 1/12th of the domestic product of the United States. The Colorado River also supports 16 million jobs in in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. That’s over 5% of the American population provided with jobs.

If 10% of the water from this river were gone, the consequence would be the loss of $143 billion in economic activity alongside 1.6 million jobs. And this all within a year. Imagine what would happen when this happens (because one day soon it will, especially at the rate we’re going at) and how many jobs would be gone within five or ten or twenty years.

So yes, people should be concerned with this river running dry. Especially the people who live there and use the water themselves. The people who are provided with jobs because of this body of water.

Let’s all be more careful with how we use water. If not for your future, do it for the futures of the generations to come.

What Agriculture Does to the Colorado River

What Agriculture Does to the Colorado River

Based on an article by Michael Cohen, Juliet Christian-Smith and John Berggren for the Pacific Institute.

This article says that “more than 90% of pasture and cropland in the 256,000-square-mile Colorado River Basin requires irrigation, with about 60% of the irrigated acreage devoted to pasture, alfalfa, and other forage crops used to feed cattle and horses. These forage crops consume about 5 million acre-feet per year, equivalent to a third of the river’s annual flow.” So you can tell that this way of agriculture is not sustainable at all. And thus far, no agreements have been made about a cap for water usage in the agricultural world that surrounds this basin. I can understand that farmers don’t like being told what to do, but without doing so there will be no future for their farming business.

As I’ve previously mentioned in other posts, the way we handle water is not sustainable at all. The amount of water taken out of the basin is larger than the amount that comes in, and with our eye on climate change this amount will only increase. That is until, one day, there is no water left. What then? I think the starting point is agriculture.

Governmental changes for the future of the Colorado River

Governmental changes for the future of the Colorado River

Based on an article by David Festa and Martin Gutiérrez and a press release by the US Bureau of reclamation.

Back in 2012 the United States and Mexico made agreements to make adjustments to adopt sustainable water management concerning the Colorado River. These were:

  • “Implementing efforts to enhance water infrastructure and promote sharing, storing, and conserving water as needed during both shortages and surpluses; 
  • Establishing proactive basin operations by applying water delivery reductions when Lake Mead resorvoir conditions are low in order to deter more severe reductions in the future; 
  • Extending humanitarian measures from a 2010 agreement, Minute 318, to allow Mexico to defer delivery of a portion of its Colorado River allotment while it continues to make repairs to earthquake-damaged infrastructure; 
  • Establishing a program of Intentionally Created Mexican Allocation (ICMA) whereby Mexico could temporarily reduce its order of Colorado River water, allowing that water to be delivered to Mexico in the future; and 
  • Promoting the ecological health of the Colorado River Delta.”

These are the first steps toward more sustainable water management. As the agreement lasts only 5 years, I hope that a second agreement will be made with even more (and more detailed) adjustments to make the future of the Colorado River a fact. But the question remains: Are we acting fast enough?

Climate change and the Colorado River basin

Climate change and the Colorado River basin

Based on the article by Jennifer Pitt of the Environmental Defense Fund for National Geographic.

“It’s not clear that the American Southwest can sustain an American style of agriculture, or for that matter an American style of lawn.”

Almost all climate change predictions say there will be problems for the Colorado River basin when the globe becomes warmer and dryer. Not all of these say the same about precipitation but they all agree that the amount of water available will decrease drastically.

The Bureau of Reclamation has assessed that the Colorado River flows would most likely decline by 8.7% by 2060. It means that 1,603,524,000 cubic meters of water will be lost. This will have a huge impact on the areas the Colorado River supplies water to.

Another problem is that the demand for water will increase, meaning that the area the basin can supply to will decrease. The prediction is an increase in demand as high as 616,740,000 cubic meters. This means the total deficit for the basin is 2,220,264,000 cubic meters. And this is not even the worst case scenario.

The American style of agriculture and the American style of lawn will definitely not sustain in the American Southwest. Changes need to be made.

Water footprints don’t stop at state borders

Water footprints don’t stop at state borders

Based on an article by Larry Buchanan, Josh Keller and Haeyoun Park of the New York Times

“The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.”

It’s not just the people whose water comes directly from the Colorado River Basin that contribute to the rapid drainage. Indirectly, whether they are aware of it or not, Americans from every state and even people from other countries around the globe contribute. The water footprints of people do not stop at the borders of the state or country these people live in.

A water footprint is the volume of fresh water appropriated to produce a product, taking into account the volumes of fresh water consumed and polluted in the different steps of the supply chain. When a consumer buys this product, they take the water footprint for this product with them.

For example, you live in Vermont and you consume a sliver of avocado produced in California, you take that avocado’s water footprint. That one sliver  takes around 4.1 gallons (15.5 liters) of water to produce. Now imagine how much water is needed for everything you consume.

The Colorado River Basin supplies its water to 40 million people, but in reality it supplies to many more.

When the western United States are drained

When the western United States are drained

Based on an article by Dennis Dimick of National Geographic

“We’re pumping irreplaceable groundwater to counter the drought. When it’s gone, the real crisis begins.”


Climate change brings drought. The drought brings the drainage of underground water supplies.

The Colorado River Basin is losing its water rapidly. Most of the water lost, in fact 75% of it, is groundwater. In only 9 years the basin has lost 65 cubic kilometers of water. This makes up for twice the amount of water stored in Lake Mead, which is the largest reservoir in the United States.

Maybe you think it would not matter if this basin lost so much of its water. The truth is, it would matter. This basin forms the water supply for over 40 million Americans and Mexicans across 7 states, including California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. Those 40 million people would be in serious trouble if the Colorado River Basin would go completely dry.

But this problem doesn’t limit itself to just the Colorado River Basin. California’s Central Valley and the southern Great Plains are also being drained.

Groundwater supplies make up for half the needs of the people in the United States. We’re draining the country, while the water doesn’t just magically reappear. Isn’t it time to find another way to meet our needs?