The Colorado River, which serves as a freshwater source for more than 40 million people in seven states and parts of Mexico, has recently been named the country’s “most endangered” by American Rivers.
This distinction stems from the river losing 20 percent of its water over the past 22 years. The reduced water levels have affected farmers and agricultural workers because their fields have dried up, which makes growing crops and feeding livestock more difficult.
Agricultural groups, ranchers and farmers are partnering with conservationists to develop plans to adapt to their changing environment. The fragility of the Colorado River is not new to the seven states it serves – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The river also serves parts of Mexico.
"We've really been working on some of this for two decades. You know, we've kind of seen this coming," said Paul Bruchez, a fifth-generation Colorado rancher.
The past two decades have brought drought conditions in the western United States as water levels in Hoover and Glen Canyon Dam reservoirs have dropped to their lowest levels since they were filled.
The Drought page on DrinkTap.org says, “Global climate change may cause some areas to receive less rain while others receive more. In addition, climate change may impact the intensity of rainfall, so that more rain falls over a shorter period of time. Climate change could also impact drought by increasing temperature, which could increase demand and evaporation.”
In addition to soil restoration projects, Bruchez put in five artificial riffles along a 12-mile span of the river. Riffles use smaller rocks where the river cascades down, which helps promote irrigation and growth at low water levels.
Bruchez has also rebuilt a meadow on his property using drought-resistant plants and his livestock seems to enjoy their food “significantly better.”
Updated drought information from throughout the United States is available from the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.