Scientists fear shortages could hit Colo. River earlier this season
TUCSON, Ariz. – Scientists and public officials fear water from the Colorado River will run short more quickly than previously predicted because of booming population growth and drought.There’s a 10 percent chance of shortages in four to five years, and a 25 percent chance the river will run short between 2020 and 2025, according to two prominent water officials in Arizona.”I have no doubt that within the next five to 10 years, we will be in a shortage,” said David Modeer, Tucson Water’s director and a member of the three-county board that manages the Central Arizona Project, which diverts water from the Colorado River to Arizona.”It does not look good,” Modeer said.Larry Dozier, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, said when the shortages happen, they would not reduce water deliveries to cities.Rather, he said it would primarily affect non-American Indian farms that are lower on the pecking order for getting water from the Central Arizona Project.But Dozier said the pain from shortages should be eased, if not eliminated, because the state has been buying excess Central Arizona Project water and storing it in the ground for the past decade.Originally, scientists who conducted a 1995 federal study predicted states would lose no more than 3 percent of their river supplies even in the worst drought year.Instead, in the time since the study, Lake Powell and Lake Mead carried less water than had been predicted for the worst possible drought, users took more water than expected, and the river’s flow was weaker than expected.Ben Harding, an engineer and one of the authors of the 1995 study, said the Colorado River’s woes are a “system drought,” caused by the huge scale of the Colorado’s reservoir system that 25 million people rely on for water, and by population growth that has come to rely on it.”The bigger the reservoirs that you build, the bigger the system you build, the more sensitive it becomes to droughts (and) the longer it takes to recover,” Harding said. “You have a bigger hole to fill.”Harding said the study’s authors assumed the worst-case drought would be a very rare event and probably many years off and that the high cost of pumping water 300 miles uphill to Tucson from the Colorado would reduce the demand for the project’s water.”The current drought, however, has caught water managers unprepared,” Harding wrote.
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