Banner Challenges Facing the Colorado River Basin

Challenges Facing the Colorado River Basin

In 2023, the effects of climate change have been seen across the world. We have experienced the hottest June, July, August, September, and October on record, and witnessed once-in-a-century extreme weather events occur with alarming frequency. The Colorado River basin, which supplies drinking and irrigation water for seven Western states, is predicted to run out of water within the next 10 years unless we take drastic measures. The consequences will impact the entire United States.

What’s happening?

Sometimes referred to as the American Nile, the Colorado River provides drinking water and irrigation water for over 40 million people. It spans 1,400 miles and winds through Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, two states in Mexico, and 30 federally recognized tribes. The river is almost singularly responsible for $1.4 trillion in economic activity. With the number of players in the game and surrounding political and economic factors, coming to an agreement on water reallocation and conservation is an uphill battle.

The region is currently experiencing a 23-year-long drought, the driest the region has been in over 1,200 years. The Colorado River fills the two biggest reservoirs in the United States: Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Both reservoirs were almost full in the year 2000 and water levels have fallen by 30% as of 2021

How did we get here?

For years, the Colorado River’s water supply has been over-allocated and overused by surrounding cities and states. Since the current drought started in 2000, the river has lost 10 trillion gallons of water and experiences a 10% decrease in flow of the river due to higher temperatures in the west. These substantial changes will have severe consequences for the communities that rely on the Colorado River. There is no indication the situation will improve at some point. Climate change is only accelerating this slow-moving disaster. Despite record rain and snowfall this past winter, especially in California, it still is not enough to reverse the damage.

The problem starts with the Colorado River Compact of 1922. The plans were drawn up based on water levels measured during an extremely wet period and were inaccurate even then. Of course, there were also significantly fewer people living in the region at the time. With federally funded dams and reservoirs redirecting water to states’ most productive agriculture regions and fueling the population growth, it is difficult to conceive of a future where the Colorado River runs dry and threatens our existence.

What’s ahead?

Climate scientists predict the Western United States will never return to ‘normal’ weather patterns and extended periods of drought will continue in the future. Approximately 70% of the river water goes to agriculture, which means states will continue to implement restrictions that force farmers to fallow hundreds of thousands of the most productive acres in the country.

Since the company’s founding, Netafim’s mission has been to help farmers grow more with less, and that is exactly what the Colorado River crisis is calling for farmers to do. We are focused on converting more acreage to subsurface drip irrigation (SDI), which not only allows growers to maximize precious natural resources but profits as well. In the desert Southwest, SDI has not only made it possible to grow alfalfa but also reduce water use by up to 50% compared to flood irrigation. It also improves crop productivity by an average of 30% - 50%.

A Future for Alfalfa

Though the concept of drip irrigation is not new, Netafim has modernized irrigation infrastructure through innovation. As we continue to study alfalfa crop maintenance in the desert, our precision solutions provide access to data through improved telemetry and monitoring.

There are currently 284,009 acres in the lower basin and 193,299 acres in the upper basin of alfalfa that use flood irrigation. Shifting 20% of these alfalfa acres to subsurface drip irrigation led to water demand reduction of over 150,000-acre feet per year.

Precision irrigation solutions are proven to help save water, fertilizer, and energy. That makes Netafim a key player in the global effort to combat widespread climate change challenges. The future of agriculture depends on us.

Interested in knowing more?

Interested in knowing more?