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How will the West adapt as the Colorado River diminishes?

An aerial image shows Lake Mead on the Colorado River during low water levels due to the western drought on July 20, 2021 from Boulder City, Nevada. - The Lake Mead reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border provides water to the Southwest, including nearby Las Vegas as well as Arizona and California, but has remained below full capacity since 1983 due to increased water demand and drought, conditions that are expected to continue. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
An aerial image shows Lake Mead on the Colorado River during low water levels due to the western drought on July 20, 2021 from Boulder City, Nevada. - The Lake Mead reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border provides water to the Southwest, including nearby Las Vegas as well as Arizona and California, but has remained below full capacity since 1983 due to increased water demand and drought, conditions that are expected to continue. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Western states depend on the Colorado River for water. They’re up against a reality that’s been a long time coming:

“It’s not like the river changed overnight. The river has been changing over the last 20 years at least,” Jennifer Pitt says.

“But we were buffered from the impacts of the change on water in the water supply by draining reservoirs.”

States have been drawing down so much water, that reservoirs are approaching the point where it may be impossible to pull more out of them. It’s a scenario called deadpool.

Recently, six Western states did come up with a proposal for how to cut water. But one state wouldn’t sign on: California.

Today, On Point: We’re going to talk about why, and what’s at stake.

Guests

Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River program director for the Audubon Society. (@JnPitt)

Bart Fisher, president of the Palo Verde Irrigation District Board of Trustee. Member of the State of California’s Colorado River Board. He farms 12,000 acres in Southern California, right on the Colorado River and near the Arizona border.

Kathryn Sorensen, director of research and professor of practice at Arizona State University. Formerly director of Phoenix Water Services as well as Director of the City of Mesa Water Resources Department.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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