The American West has a dire future, if a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council paints an accurate picture.
Already warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, the Colorado River basin is likely to experience more heat waves and more prolonged drought, particularly as the much-used, much-abused Colorado River is tapped by a ballooning population at the same time it is drying up.
The report, by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, relied on temperature data from 11 states, but drew conclusions based on just four years of records. From 2003-2007, the Colorado River basin was 2.2 degrees above its historical average, and the 11-state region was 1.7-degrees hotter. The world, in that period, recorded temperatures about 1 degree warmer than the historical average. It isn't clear, however, if that comparison is valid, statistically.
What is clear is that the region is facing a future of increased population and dwindling water reserves. With large cities like Denver, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego all reliant on the Colorado River for water, the need for sustained mountain snow, which feeds the river is a must. But that snowpack is precisely what is most at risk, as warmer temperatures lead to more evaporation and potentially less snow to begin with.
One recent study predicted the Colorado River's main reservoirs could fail within 15 years.
Meanwhile, the region continues to stick more straws into the glass. Phoenix alone has added more than 800,000 people since 2000.
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