Bureau of Reclamation: Colorado River Is "Over-Allocated;" Even Drinking Water Is Coming into Question for 36 Million People
May 16, 2012 • 6:41AM

The Bureau of Reclamation, the Federal agency responsible for water resources in 17 western states, is completing a two-year study of the water supply crisis in the Colorado River Basin, due for release in July. The agency's Interim Report No. 1 gives summary parameters, showing why NAWAPA XXI is the only and sufficient emergency program on the national agenda right now.

The report states:

"Based on the inflows observed over the last century, the Colorado River is over-allocated...." The water pledged to differing users, since 1922 and various water-sharing compacts since, isn't there to be delivered any more.

The Interim Report gives the parameters showing that the supply is dropping below critical levels. The report summarizes what is at stake:

"Today, more than 30 million people in the seven western states of Arizona, California, Nevada (Lower Division States) and Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming (Upper Division States), collectively referred to as the Basin States, rely on the Colorado River and its tribuatries to provide some, if not all, of their municipal water needs. That same water source irrigates nearly 4 million acres of land in the Basin — producing some 14 percent of the nation's crops and about 13 percent of its livestock.... Hydropower facilities along the Colorado River provide more than 4,200 megawatts of capacity, providing vitally important electricity to help meet the power needs of the West...The Colorado River is also vital to Mexico. The river supports a thriving agricultural industry in the Mexicali Valley and provides municipal water supplies for communities as far away as Tijuana..." (From Colorado River Basin Supply & Demand Study, Bureau of Reclamation).

Simply stated, the current decline in the water relative to needs, comes from the recent, dramatic 11-year dry spell (despite 2011 heavy rains and snowpack), along with the increasing needs for the population — even when economic activity has been depressed, and most importantly, all this occurs in the context in which NAWAPA was never built. The current drought episode, in the longer range of paleo-history, in the context of planetary, solar and galactic cycles, cannot be regarded as "unexpected."

The report notes: "The period from 2000 through 2012 represents the lowest 11-year average natural flow at Lee's Ferry [river guage, in Arizona] in recorded history, averaging 12.1 maf per year, approximately 20% below the 103-year average. Although an 11-year drought of this magnitude is unprecedented in over 100 years, the same paleo reconstructions of streamflow studies show that droughts of this severity or greater have occurred in the past."