Imagine you’re at a dinner party. The host, at the head of the table, begins to pass a pitcher of water around after taking some herself. Hungry, you dig into a plate of salty fries. A few bites in, you reach for your glass. But, you are at the opposite end of the table and wait patiently as the pitcher slowly makes its way to the six guests before you. Each takes what they want for the whole of dinner, filling their glasses as you watch the water in the pitcher dwindle.
Suddenly, the host announces that the tap broke and there will be no more water for the night– as you watch the guest just before you drain the last of the water to top off their own glass.
The Colorado River knows how you feel. Its hotly demanded waters are increasingly siphoned, leaving the great river to end in a mud-cracked trickle, some 80 miles from its terminus in the Sea of Cortes. Just as you were left with a mouth full of salt and a dry glass at the foot of the table.
In reality, the 30 million guests around the Colorado’s table are the residents of seven states: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and California and populations in Mexico. Each of these regions and consumers draw their water from the Colorado and rely on it to hydrate the desert west.
It’s an unfair task to ask from the river. Over extraction from the Colorado has deep roots, reaching back to 1922 when allocations from the river were made using that year’s water levels. It has since been proven that, that year was especially wet; so the 17 trillion gallon baseline that allocations of the river’s waters currently assume, is actually closer to 14.7 trillion gallons in an average year.
Furthermore, climate change is set to decrease the flow of the river by 5 to 20 percent over the next 40 years, according to geoscientist Brad Udall.
So what can be done?
A fundamental shift needs to happen in how we think about the Colorado River as a natural resource. Even our language, stating that ‘supply will fall short of demand’, reveals a disconnect in how we view water supply.
Instead, we should acknowledge that ‘our demand is too high for the supply.’ We cannot wring any more from the Colorado. We can already see the changes that human actions have wrought on the landscape. We should work to give back to this river.
The ‘Change the Course‘ initiative aims to do just that. Take a pledge to reduce your water consumption and for EVERY pledge received, Change the Course will restore 1,000 gallons of water to the Colorado River.
Take the pledge and help save the Colorado River!
For further learning, find out how much water is hidden in everyday products and see how the things you eat everyday impact watersheds around the world. Then you can make smart, informed decisions on how to conserve water!
Written by: Emily Connor, National Geographic Intern, Spring 2013