President Joe Biden has issued a strong warning that the Colorado River will dry up unless climate change efforts are stepped up.
He made the comments while addressing the Democratic National Committee in Las Vegas, Nevada this week, Fox News reported.
“You’re not going to be able to drink from the Colorado River,” Biden said. The President added that climate change is “a serious matter”.
“It’s the worst single episode,” Biden said, per Fox, warning that “we will doom our children” if we don’t keep the global warming rate below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
But is that even possible? Could the Colorado River dry up and will it be as bad as Biden says?
Well, the Colorado River has already reached its lowest water level in a century. Experts believe this is due to drought caused by climate change, which is set to get worse in the coming years.
Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River program director at the National Audubon Society, an environmental organization, previously said news week: “The Colorado River has experienced prolonged drought for the past 23 years, made worse by climate change. Rising temperatures are drying out the region, resulting in reduced flow in the river. Due to climate change, it is not possible to predict the future of the river. There is no historical precedent for today’s conditions.”
The river is one of the most important in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It provides water to around 40 million people in the surrounding areas and irrigates up to 5 million acres of farmland.
In fact, all of the American Southwest as we know it exists because of the water from the Colorado River and its irrigation through systems like Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam.
But this stretch of drought was as bad and even drier than any on record in the United States in the past 1,200 years. As the drought rages on, people are consuming the river’s resources far more than they used to. This, coupled with the dry conditions, means the water doesn’t replenish itself as quickly as it needs to.
The lack of rainfall due to the drought isn’t the only factor behind the falling water levels of the Colorado River.
Water levels typically rise and fall seasonally due to winter snowpack flowing down from the Rocky Mountains. But seasonal weather patterns are becoming increasingly difficult to predict as climate change worsens. The region’s lack of rainfall has meant that the Colorado River and its reservoirs have remained at consistently low levels in recent years.
Occasionally there will still be cold and wet winters. The Southwest, particularly California, has seen a large amount of rain and snow this winter period. But even that will not end the drought in the long term. Because the drought has been going on for so long, experts say it will take years of above-average rainfall to stop it.
Formed by the Hoover Dam and providing water for 25 million people, Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States, is a prime example of how drought is causing Colorado’s water supplies to run dry.
In July 2022, the reservoir reached its lowest point to date at 1,040 feet. Experts from the Bureau of Reclamation predict that this will only decrease.
Many experts have warned that unless immediate action is taken, the Colorado River will ultimately not be an available source of water for people. And that would be a disaster.
So Biden’s prediction is possible if no steps are taken to correct course.
The Colorado River may not dry up completely. But drying out to the point where it’s no longer a viable water source for 40 million people is a likely scenario.
Experts can’t say when that might happen – and many argue the drought will only get worse, meaning officials must take action to conserve water.
“The decline in rivers has been so great that we have to adapt. The seven states of the Colorado River Basin, tribes, irrigation districts, municipal and industrial water users, and the federal government must agree to any water reduction needed to stabilize the river and reservoir system,” Pitt said.
The Bureau of Reclamation predicts that Lake Mead will continue to shrink over the next few years. Its water level could reach a point as high as 992 feet by the end of July 2024, the US 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 states of the Colorado River Basin have already met to discuss water conservation measures in the Southwest.
“Fortunately, through the bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, the federal government has allocated significant resources to improve irrigation infrastructure, support urban reuse and habitat restoration, and fund water conservation,” Pitt said. “We will remain committed to multi-year water conservation agreements and permanent projects that are part of long-term solutions to reduce water use and improve the health of our rivers and watersheds.”
Experts continue to warn people not to become complacent in the face of the severity of the drought brought on by climate change. This can be done easily, especially in periods of increased precipitation.