NASA Study Warns of Grim Future for Colorado River Basin

For those living in the American southwest the current drought is not news. Conditions have been drier than normal since 2000 and the sight of brown lawns, receded shorelines, and dead trees is becoming uncomfortably common. But a recent study based on data from the NASA GRACE mission suggests that what is happening below the surface could be worse.

Using data dating back to 2002, researchers have shown a loss of more than 13 trillion gallons of water from the Colorado River basin. That’s twice the total volume of Lake Mead; enough to meet the household water needs of the entire US for 8 years

What sort of implications does this data have for water management? Historically, water rights and water management has focused on dividing up surface water for use by farmers, industry, and cities. But as this drought has shown, when surface water runs out (as it often does due to over allocation of water rights) the natural inclination is to drill down and tap aquifers to access groundwater. In many places, groundwater is not managed and very little information is readily available on the condition of aquifers. For example, in California there is no regulation governing the drilling for and use of groundwater.

What’s the harm? Research shows that the recharge rates (how quickly an aquifer refills with water) can vary greatly. While some aquifers quickly refill from surface waters or sub-surface flows, many aquifers can take decades or even centuries to naturally replace water withdrawn for human use. When the groundwater runs out, it is effectively gone for good; the environmental, social, and economic costs will be astronomic.

1 thought on “NASA Study Warns of Grim Future for Colorado River Basin

  1. Pingback: Elevation of Entire Western US Rises Due to Drought | Wet World Water Blog

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