A new study of the Colorado River Basin’s water future released Wednesday offers the most thorough assessment ever done on the topic and serves as an important framework for meeting water demands in coming decades, officials with the San Diego County Water Authority said.
The study was issued by the seven Colorado River Basin states and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It outlines several strategies to reduce the potential for water shortages on the river system through 2060.
The Colorado River
“This analysis reinforces what other studies have suggested for years: We can’t rely on the Colorado River to meet all the demands of a growing population in a changing climate,” said Halla Razak, director of the Water Authority’s Colorado River Program.
“The Colorado River will continue to be an important water supply for San Diego County for decades – but it is subject to forces outside our control,” Razak said. “To address this and other supply challenges, the Water Authority is implementing an aggressive supply diversification strategy.”
That strategy – which has been pursued for more than 20 years – features local supply development, including the recent decision to buy water from a desalination plant to be built in Carlsbad. Related efforts include securing highly reliable water through an agriculture-to-urban water conservation and transfer program the Water Authority cemented with the Imperial Irrigation District. The Water Authority also secured supplies through canal-lining projects in the Imperial Valley that conserve water from the Colorado River.
In addition, the Water Authority also has been a leader in promoting water conservation. Per capita water consumption in the region has dropped by 37 percent since 1990 through the combined efforts of legislation, outreach and a series of programs to trim indoor and outdoor water use.
“This latest analysis is a good reminder that the supply and demand imbalance is a long-term problem that demands long-term thinking, planning and implementation,” Razak said.
The document released Wednesday reflects the most up-to-date science, such as estimates of how climate change will alter Colorado River flows. The analysis shows the river system is vulnerable to changes in water supplies resulting from a drier and warmer climate.It says shortages could average 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060.
No single solution will address the scope of the potential gap between supply and demand. However the study does offer several options to minimize the shortfall, including expanded conservation, more water reuse and increased water banking.