The West’s most important water supply is drying up. Soon, life for 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River will change.

“We thought we could engineer nature… huge mistake,” the general manager of the Colorado River District says

Conrad Swanson
The Denver Post
A group of friends from the Denver area have fun on the Colorado River, at Rancho Del Rio, on July 2, 2022, near Bond. According to Save the Colorado, a non-profit organization working to protect and restore the Colorado River, tens of millions of people recreate in and near the river annually. The river flows through dozens of national parks, national recreation areas, national forests and BLM lands, in addition to state and local parks that line the river and its tributaries.
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

PAGE, ARIZONA — White sandstone cliffs create a ring around Lake Powell in contrast to the honey- and red-colored desert rock nearby. Evidence that water once, not all that long ago, filled America’s second-largest reservoir.

The last time entire sections of Lake Powell were this dry, the place was actually called Glen Canyon. That was before the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, which flooded the canyon and created the reservoir.

The reservoir’s water is receding because the Colorado River is drying. Climatologists aren’t sure when, or if, Powell will ever fill again. Rather, they expect conditions to worsen.

That likely means less water for major cities like Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Diego. Higher electricity and grocery bills, too. Less swimming in reservoirs like Powell. Less boating, white water rafting, swimming. Fewer tourists.

The seven states relying on water from the Colorado River Basin are drawing too much. Hydrologists warned this would happen generations ago, though politicians and government officials failed to listen or decided not to.

“They knew this was a problem and they elected to kick the can down the road,” Brad Udall, water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, said. “They knew better and they did it anyway.”


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