Colorado River

Extended Drought in Southwestern US

One of the projections of climate change due to global warming is alterations in rainfall patterns. Warmer air will hold more moisture so one might think that global warming will cause more rainfall and generally that is true overall, but another feature of global warming is a redistribution of rainfall, more falling on the coasts and less in the continental interior.

Additionally, the rainfall patterns are predicted to change to more intense storms where larger amounts of rain occur over shorter time spans. Heavy rains mean more runoff, hence less water available for the myriad of uses we depend on – energy production, agriculture, industry, recreation and most importantly drinking water.

>The Colorado River and its tributaries drain a basin of a quarter million square miles. Forty million people in six western states [Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona] are directly in the line of fire of climate change. For millions of years the Colorado has flowed from the upper reaches of the Rockies to a large delta at its confluence with the Gulf of California.

Not so much any more. A combination of drought and pressure on the river from agriculture and burgeoning cities has reduced the flow to the point that in recent years the Colorado no longer reaches the sea. Virtually every drop is removed for irrigation in the Imperial Valley of California, to cool coal-fired power plants around the Four Corners area, and to water golf courses in Phoenix.

Global warming and the attendant climate change is predicted to decrease precipitation by twenty percent in the watershed over the next forty years. This will greatly exacerbate the issue of the availability of water in the southwest. The water level of Lake Powell,

Lake Powell on Colorado River

Lake Powell on Colorado River

formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam is at an all time low, some 120 feet below its high of a decade ago. Images show what appears to be a “bathtub ring” on sandstone bluffs along the lakeside.

Another distressed southwestern watershed is the almost two thousand mile long Rio Grande which demarks much of the border between the US and Mexico. The two hundred thousand square mile basin has been stressed by a decade long drought, and it appears to be getting worse due to global warming. Two significant reservoirs, Elephant Butte and Caballo are at less than ten per cent capacity.

Elephant butte Reservoir

Elephant butte Reservoir

Like the Colorado, the Rio Grande doesn’t make it to the sea. What little flow exists is removed, mainly for irrigation. The flow essentially ends by the time it reaches Presidio, TX.  Other significant water courses in China, India and Australia are distressed to the point of no exit flows. The problems are real and worsening with increasing population demand and climate change.

Global warming is real, we are causing it and we need to address how to stop,even reversed it, in addition to the immediate need for adaptation to the new climate we are forcing.

One thought on “Extended Drought in Southwestern US

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *