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US environmental officials have noticed a concerning trend, as data shows a critical reservoir in the southwest is rapidly drying up. The Colorado River, which supplies a vast web of tributaries that snake across seven western states and Mexico, has shrunk exponentially in recent years. The river allows farmers to irrigate otherwise untenable land, and further shrinkage could deprive them and millions of residents of a vital lifeline.
Residents of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming – 40 million people in all – wouldn’t exist without it.
Arizona’s second-largest city, Tucson, pulls 82 percent of its supply from the river, and San Diego takes 66 percent.
American dreamers in the Nevada desert could never have built Las Vegas without channelling 90 percent of the city’s supply from the reservoir.
According to scientists, however, the river has started to buckle under the demand, having shrunk 20 percent since 2000.
Major US river that supplies water to 40million people is drying up – 7 states affected (Image: GETTY)
Colorado River: Farmlands require irrigation from the river to grow crops (Image: GETTY)
The result is a trend of emptying amongst reservoirs vital for sustaining water networks during drought.
Lake Mead, which officials filled in the early 20th century, outlines the extent of the concerning trend.
Current records show the reservoir has receded by 146 feet (44.5 metres) since the new millennium, to just 35 percent of its capacity.
Lake Powell, which also functions as a hydroelectricity generator, is at 32 percent.
Colorado River: Lake Powell in 2000 (Image: NASA)
Colorado River: Lake Powell in 2010 (Image: NASA)
Colorado River: The latest satellite images of Lake Powell (Image: NASA)
Any noticeable declines in water arteries result in efforts from local officials to offset further damage.
The US Bureau of Reclamation declared a shortage along the river effective next year.
For states reliant on its supplies, this means sweeping cuts.
Arizona, for instance, must cut its supply from the Colorado River by 18 percent.
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Colorado River: Dams across the river also supply hydroelectricity (Image: GETTY)
Cuts across neighbouring states will vary based on overall dependence and could spark disputes as legislated guidelines expire in 2026.
By the time interstate negotiations settle on a revised agreement to guide water supplies, they will have even less water to hand.
Scientific evidence has coalesced around one root cause of the looming crisis: climate change.
Andy Mueller, manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said climate change should concern “everybody in the Colorado River Basin.”
The process has impacted Arizona so severely that Gary Wockner, an environmental activist who heads the Save The Colorado River campaign, said climate change has “doomed” Lake Powell and that relief efforts should focus on Lake Mead.
But experts have accused local politicians and officials of failing to grasp the urgency of the crisis.
They recently greenlit the Lake Powell pipeline, a 140-mile long diversion that would pump water from the Colorado River through Utah.
While it would supply millions, the pipeline would ultimately pile stress on existing networks, resigning it to the fate Mr Wockner has foretold.