Colorado Basin Water Supply and Demands in a Changing Climate

Katrina Harrison

Abstract: Tree-ring studies show that the 20th century was one of the wettest of the last 5 centuries in the Colorado basin, and that droughts in the past were more severe than the current Colorado River Basin drought (Woodhouse, 2006). Water supply infrastructure projects were constructed, legal and contractual obligations were set, and cities and agriculture grew based on data from a wet hydrologic period. This, along with increasing population, increasing use of existing contractual water supplies, and climate change are forcing a severe water shortage within the Colorado River basin. Modeling projections estimate that by 2060 there may be a deficit of 3.2 million acre-feet across the basin (Reclamation, 2012). This paper discusses Colorado River water supply, demands, and changes to both due to demographic, economic, and climate change.