Climate change and the Colorado River

2009-07-23

in Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

Blue steel scaffolding

A study conducted by the University of Colorado at Boulder has concluded that there is a 50% chance of the Colorado River system “fully depleting all of its reservoir storage by mid-century assuming current management practices continue on course.” The authors of the study have determined that could reduce average stream flow by 20%, which translates into a 50% chance of fully depleting reservoir storage. That storage capacity amounts to more than 60 million acre feet, nearly four times the ordinary annual flow of the river.

To appreciate the potential significance of such a development, one need only consider that the river powers more than a dozen dams, and serves the water needs of 30 million people. Replacing the electrical output provided by the dams would be a very difficult matter, and the water restrictions that would accompany declined availability would challenge agriculture, industry, and residential development. The study illustrates some key points about climate change:

  • People in rich developed states are also vulnerable
  • Serious impacts could arise in the medium term
  • Significant aspects of our current economic system could be disrupted in the coming decades, if we fail to reduce our emissions

Hopefully, these messages will get through to voters and policy-makers, and the kind of mobilization required to cut emissions will begin.

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