Live In The West & Mountain West? What You Must Know About Colorado River Drought

September 16, 2021

In March of last year, I wrote about a report from the Science Journal warning the U.S. about how quickly the Colorado River is drying up. The Colorado River, also called the mother of rivers because it connects to 8,000 miles of other rivers and 2,000 lakes, provides drinking water to over 40 million people, and that number is quickly growing. More and more people have been moving to the Mid-Western states such as Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and even California, all of which rely on the river for water supply. This is putting even more of a strain on the river when early last year, the two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, weren’t even half full.

White Rings around the rock face of Lake Mead Due to Water Shortage

Last year it was reported that if we don’t quickly change how we consume water and mitigate climate change, the Colorado River could face a 9-31% decrease in water levels by the end of the century. Today, the number is up to a 50% decrease. Already the reservoirs see a white ring around the rock face, like a bathtub ring, showing how much water we have lost. Drinking water is not the only thing that America relies on from the Colorado River. In fact, from Arizona to Wyoming, we rely on the river to power the electric grid. The two biggest dams, the Hoover and the Glen Canyon, create energy for millions of people. The Colorado River is also a big part of agriculture production. It is the source of water for crops that many of us buy from the grocery store. However, this has also been a significant source of water waste.

Water from the Colorado River is used to grow nonessential grasses and grains such as alfalfa just to feed cattle for meat production. These grasses are also sold and exported to other countries for livestock feed as well. This wasteful use of the water, in addition to climate change, means that the river is decreasing in flow so rapidly that officials declared an emergency water shortage earlier last month, the first-ever in Colorado’s history. This will force cuts in the water supply to several states; Arizona, for example, is being cut off from a fifth of their regular water supply. Was the over-production of meat worth the lack of drinking water and water used for essential crops for communities all across America?

It is currently projected that Lake Mead could drop in another 40 vertical feet by 2023, which would mean that the water levels would be at 1,026 feet above sea level. Due to the reservoir’s elevation, if it reaches 895 feet, it will be considered a “dead pool” as it would no longer be able to flow downstream. This would leave the 1.3 million people that rely on the reservoir for electricity without an option.

Many stories have left me feeling hopeful in recent months regarding changes being made to mitigate the climate crisis and help all as we are dealing with the changing world. However, we have been warned about decreasing water levels for years; it did not start with the report I wrote about last year. When will we finally hear what is being said to us and make a difference? When is it too late? There’s already a water crisis happening in many parts of the world; if we don’t change soon, America will be next.

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Photo: Emal Rezaie on Unsplash

Iga is a freelance writer based in Colorado, but originally from Poland. She follows the vegan, sustainability and zero-waste movements while trying to live a practical lifestyle! When she’s not writing she likes to practice yoga, read, play with her dogs and just be outside in nature. You can find more of her work at her website


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