Biden Says Climate Change Could Dry Up Colorado River. Is It Possible? – Newsweek
President Joe Biden has given a dire warning that the Colorado River will dry up if climate change efforts do not ramp up.
He made the comments while speaking to the Democratic National Committee in Las Vegas, Nevada this week, Fox News reported.
“You’re not going to be able to drink out of the Colorado River,” Biden said. The president added that climate change was “serious stuff.”
“It’s the single most dire consequence,” Biden said, per Fox, warning that “we’re going to damn our children” if we don’t keep the rate of global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But is this actually possible? Could the Colorado River dry up and will it be as bad as Biden says?
Well, the Colorado River has already reached the lowest water levels seen in a century. Experts believe this is down to climate change-caused drought which will only get worse in the coming years.
Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River program director with the National Audubon Society, an environmental organization, previously told Newsweek: “The Colorado River has experienced an extended drought for the past 23 years, exacerbated by climate change. Rising temperatures are drying out the region, resulting in less flow in the river. Climate change means it is not possible to predict the river’s future. There is no historic precedent for today’s conditions.”
The river is one of the most important across the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It provides water for around 40 million people in the surrounding areas and irrigates up to 5 million acres of farmland.
In fact, the whole of the southwestern U.S. exists as we know it due to the water from the Colorado River, and its irrigation through systems like the Hoover Dam and the Glen Canyon Dam.
But this stretch of drought has been as bad, and even drier, than any other recorded in the U.S. in the past 1,200 years. As the drought rages on, people are using up the river’s resources far more than they used to do. This, paired with the dry conditions, means that the water is not replenishing itself as fast as is needed.
A lack of rainfall due to the drought is not the only factor behind the Colorado River’s declining water levels.
Water levels usually go up and down seasonally due to winter snowpack flowing down from the Rocky Mountains. But seasonal weather patterns are becoming harder to predict as climate change worsens. The lack of precipitation in the area has caused the Colorado River, and its reservoirs, to stay at a consistently low level in recent years.
Occasionally, there will still be cold and wet winters. The southwest, California in particular, has seen a huge amount of rain and snow this winter period. But even this will do little to end the drought in the long term. As the drought has been ongoing for so long, it will take years of above-average rainfall to stop it, per experts.
Lake Mead, which is the largest man-made reservoir in the U.S., is formed by the Hoover Dam and provides water to 25 million people—it is a prime example of how drought is causing water supplies in Colorado to dry up.
In July 2022, the reservoir reached its lowest point ever at 1,040 feet. Experts at the Bureau of Reclamation predict this will only get lower.
Many experts have warned that if action is not taken immediately, eventually, the Colorado River will not be an available water source for people. And this would be a catastrophe.
So, Biden’s prediction is possible, if steps are not taken to course correct.
The Colorado River may not dry up entirely. But drying up to the point where it is no longer a viable water source for 40 million people is a likely scenario.
Experts cannot say when this could happen—and many argue that drought will only continue to worsen, meaning officials need to take steps to conserve water.
“The decline of flows has been so great that we need to adapt. The seven Colorado River Basin states, Tribes, irrigation districts, municipal and industrial water users, and the federal government must agree to water reductions necessary to stabilize the river and reservoir system,” Pitt said.
The Bureau of Reclamation predicts that over the next few years, Lake Mead will continue to decline. Its water levels could reach a point as low as 992 feet by the end of July 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reported in a two-year “probabilistic projection” for the Colorado River system.
However, the prediction means there is time to act.
The Colorado River Basin states have already met to discuss measures on how best to conserve water in the Southwest.
“Fortunately, the federal government has provided significant resources through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act to improve irrigation infrastructure, support urban reuse and habitat restoration, and fund water conservation,” Pitt said. “We will continue to advocate for multi-year water conservation agreements and durable projects that are part of long-term solutions to reduce water use and improve the health of our rivers and watersheds.”
Experts continue to caution people not to get complacent about the severity of the drought, prompted by climate change. This can be easy to do, especially during periods of increased rainfall.
“The water supply forecasts look to be above average,” Haley Paul, Arizona policy director for the National Audubon Society, previously told Newsweek. “But remember, because our reservoirs—particularly Powell and Mead—are so low from 23-plus years of drought, it would take many years of above-average snow and runoff to refill the reservoirs.”
“We cannot take our eye off the ball in terms of figuring out how to use less water from the Colorado River in order to prevent the reservoirs from falling to catastrophically low levels.”
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