Science & Technology



Where does all the Colorado River water go? A huge amount goes to grow cattle feed, new analysis shows.

Elise Schmelzer, The Denver Post on

Published in Science & Technology News

Almost everyone agrees: Residents of the Colorado River Basin need to reduce water consumption.

Researchers have estimated a reduction of up to 29% is needed across the basin to stabilize Lake Powell and Lake Mead. More reductions will likely be needed as climate change and aridification increase evaporation and shrink water flows.

How exactly to implement those reductions fairly is the nexus of the ongoing negotiations between states, tribes and the federal government.

Programs to pay farmers to stop irrigating some of their acreage — such as the System Conservation Pilot Program in the Upper Basin — will need to be part of the solution, Richter said. Other options include swapping alfalfa and hay for other crops.

“These transitions in irrigated farming and ranching are not going to be easy for rural communities in the West,” he said. “We’re going to have be really smart and creative about the policies and programs that can facilitate those transitions so that we’re not losing these communities.”


Urban areas have successfully reduced water usage, Ricter said, but more can be done.

“We’re all responsible for this,” he said. “We can all contribute to this.”


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