The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin

Identifies five innovative solutions that could eliminate Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River and meet the water needs of the West’s business, agricultural and growing population through 2060.

The facts are clear: the demand for water from the Colorado Riverexceeds the supply. By 2060, we can expect a 3.8 million acre-foot deficitin river supply.Coming up short could put 36million people’s drinking water, agriculture, future economic growth, the$26.4 billion outdoor recreational economy, and a quarter-million jobs injeopardy.In addition, the river’s imbalance is wreaking havoc on the West’s naturalecosystems, harming world-class fisheries and unique natural wonders.In addition to identifying the challenges, the report details five affordable solutions to ensure a reliable water future, improve the health of the ColoradoRiver, grow the economies of the seven basin states, and protect essentialwestern natural habitats.

  • Municipal conservation, saving 1 million acre-feetthroughimproved landscaping techniques, rebate programs that incentivizewater-saving devices, installing new appliances and fixtures, andstandardized, routine water audits across municipalities.
  • Municipal reuse, saving 1.2 million acre-feet—Wastewater and graywater can be treated for potable use, and reused for irrigation, industrialprocessing and cooling, dust control, artificial lakes and replenishinggroundwater supply. Rainwater harvesting using innovative newtechnologies is a simple additional step.
  • Agricultural efficiency and water banking, saving 1 million acre-feet—Agriculture is the river’s largest water use, extending across 5.7million acres of arid western land and consuming more than 70% of the river’s water. Voluntary irrigationefficiency, regulated irrigation, rotational fallowing, crop shifting andinnovative irrigation technologies are already being used by farmers. In addition, water banking is a market-based approach thatallows farmers (and others) to bank their unused water voluntarily.
  • Clean, water-efficient energy supplies, saving 160 thousand acre-feet—To reduce the need for water to cool thermoelectricpower plants, Colorado River basin states can continue to pursue energyefficiency and renewable sources of energy like wind, solar photovoltaics,and geothermal, which require little or no water.
  • Innovative water opportunities, generating up to 1 million acre-feet—Inland desalination in certain areas with brackish groundwaterand surface water is a viable option to stretch water supplies, potentiallygenerating 620,000 acre-feet of water. In addition, dust-on-snowmanagement can help save a minimum of 400,000 acre-feet of water while removing dense invasive plants in upland areas will save a minimum of30,000 acre-feet of water.