What you need to know, currently.
New research by the Southern Nevada Water Authority aims to pinpoint where water is lost from the Colorado River due to evaporation. Due to unrelenting drought across the Western United States the river’s output is down to about 20 percent of what it was in the 1900’s.
While the megadrought has definitely been intensified by climate change — one study suggests the Southwest hasn’t been this dry in 1,200 years — the water shortage is due in large part to a 100 year old deal called the Colorado River Compact, which allocated water to Western states using faulty numbers.
“The framers of the compact — and water leaders since then — have always either known or had access to the information that the allocation they were making were more than what the river could supply,” Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center at the University of Colorado Law School told AP News. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, both of which are supplied by the Colorado River, reached record lows this year; sunken ships began to emerge from the waterline and a sixth body was recently found.
Should water levels continue to decline, the water sharing agreement will be threatened — with upper basin states likely cutting off the supply to the lower basin. Researchers from the Southern Nevada Water Authority believe that correctly identifying evaporation rates along the river, in order to make supply cuts among lower basin states, may help keep the river at a sustainable level and forestall more drastic action.