Lake Powell, photo: Pat Williams via flickr.
A new study done at University of Colorado, Boulder sheds some light on what might happen to the Colorado River and its reservoirs should flow of the river become reduced by climate change in the coming decades. The gist of it is that in the short term the system is quite resilient (despite going on 10 years of drought), but by mid-century there could be a 50-50 chance that reservoirs made become fully depleted:The research, published in the journal Water Resources Research, shows that through 2026 the risk of depleting reservoir storage remains less than 10% in any given year, even with a 20% reduction in stream flow -- which some climate change models predict could happen. That's because of the massive amounts of reservoir storage along the river, mostly in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
However, by 2057 that risk increases: If there's a 10% reduction in stream flow the risk of reservoir depletion increases to 25% in any given year. If there's a 20% reduction, according to study author Balaji Rajagopalan, "the chances of fully depleting reservoir storage will exceed 50%."
Climate Change = 10 Times the Risk of Population Pressures Alone
On average, drying caused by climate change would increase the risk of fully depleting reservoir storage by nearly ten times more than the population pressures alone. By mid-century this risk translates into...an enormous risk and huge water management challenge.
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