The Colorado River supplies drinking and irrigation water to a whopping 40 million people, spanning from Colorado to California. It’s no secret that demand for this water increases as supply diminishes — dams, channels, irrigation, and climate change all threaten the heavily relied-upon source of drinking water. In fact, the main river has 15 dams, while its tributaries have a hundred more. As populations continue to grow in states like Colorado and climate change takes effect, the Colorado River — the seventh largest river in North America — is facing immense stress.

Scientists determined that the Colorado River Basin has been in a long-term drought, caused by climate change, since 2000. Traditionally, most of the water in the Colorado River is supplied by snowmelt runoff coming from the Rockies. However, as climate change increases temperatures and reduces the amount of water stored as snow in the Rockies, more water is arriving in the form of rain that quickly moves through the river system. The loss of water stored as snow in the mountains is troubling to water experts, who fear for the future of our water security. 

Another main concern is the threat of dams to the water security of the Colorado River and of the West. Starting in the early 20th century, dams were constructed along the Colorado River to promote the distribution of water to states such as New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and California. As water sits in these dams and reservoirs under the hot desert sun, high evaporation rates cause significant water loss. Important reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell are losing precious water to evaporation. 

In these situations, it can feel as though there is nothing we can do as individuals to address the issue. However, there are actions that we can all take to promote the health and longevity of the Colorado River. Here are some ways you can help support water security into the future:

Photo courtesy of Brandon Ewert

1. Reduce your water consumption:

Did you know that shortening your showers by just two minutes each day, can save up to 150 gallons of water per month? The same goes for turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth. Small efforts like these make a difference.

2. Landscape with native and drought-tolerant plants:

Given that much of Colorado is a desert, this should be a logical choice. Instead of planting water-intensive Kentucky Bluegrass, choose drought-tolerant plants that are native to your region. Not only will the plants be easier to take care of, they will also require less water. 

3. Support nonprofits and organizations that protect the Colorado River:

By volunteering for or donating to groups like Conservation Colorado, The Nature Conservancy, and the Colorado Water Trust you can directly assist in the preservation of the Colorado River and help pass legislation to protect it into the future. 

4. Share your knowledge:

Raise awareness! Many people are unaware of this issue or even where their own water comes from. By informing your friends and family of this issue and of ways they can be involved, we can all make strides to heal the Colorado River. 

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