The Colorado River, which provides water for 40 million Americans, is facing a crisis, as climate change has caused its water levels to drop to unprecedented lows, triggering water cuts across the Southwest.
The river is one of the country’s longest — stretching for 1,450 miles, from the Rocky Mountains through the Southwest and into Mexico.
Human-induced climate change has led to the area becoming hotter and drier. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 95% of the West is currently experiencing a drought. And a UN report released last week said droughts that used to only occur once every 10 years are happening 70% more often.
A 2020 study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that the Colorado River has declined by about 20% over the last 100 years. Without considerable change the river could continue to dry up, impacting the drinking water, power, and irrigation abilities of communities across the Southwest.
But the IPCC report says it’s not too late to take action, and there is some hope to prevent more widespread warming. While most of the policy on climate change will require coordinated efforts among governments, there are ways individual action can help.
Find Something You Can Do Something About
Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director for the National Audubon Society explained climate change can feel like an overwhelming problem that you’re powerless to solve, but each of us can make a difference. You can start small by joining a local conservation organization, or participating in public water conservation meetings conducted by local governments or water management districts.
Learn From Las Vegas
Hotter, drier conditions are going to shift the way we all use water, so it’s time to learn from the places that have managed to use their water wisely. “Ten years ago people always used to point at Las Vegas and say, ‘Why would you build a city in the desert?’” Pitt said, “but they have gotten very serious about water conservation and they have totally changed the look of their residential areas.”
Las Vegas has embraced a style of landscaping called xeriscaping, which creates landscapes that are designed to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation. By examining where in our lives we can reduce water consumption, we can save water for more pressing needs.
Find Other Ways You May Be Wasting Water
The American Red Cross offers these suggestions for conserving water in your household:
- Never pour water down the drain, Instead, find another use for it, like watering plants
- Take shorter showers
- Don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth, washing your face or shaving
- Make sure your home is leak-free and repair dripping faucets by replacing washers
- Only run your dishwasher or your washer when you have a full load