Fact Sheet 2010–3123
The health of the Colorado River watershed is critical to the socioeconomic and ecosystem well-being of the Southwestern United States. Water in springs, streams, and rivers supports a range of aquatic and riparian ecosystems that contain many endangered species. Terrestrial habitats support a wide array of plants and wildlife. In addition, this region is enjoyed by millions of people annually for its recreational and esthetic opportunities. The Colorado River provides water for about 25 million people and is used to irrigate 2.5 million acres of farmland. However, competition for this water is expected to increase as human populations dependent on this water are projected to increase to 38 million by 2020.
Climate change is expected to further exacerbate water issues in this region. Drought in the Southwest during 2000–04, caused by both reduced precipitation and a series of the hottest years on record, resulted in streamflows lower than during the 1930s Dust Bowl or the 1950s. Increased temperatures alone are a major factor in reducing surface-water flows in this region. For instance, precipitation received during the winter of 2005 was at the 100-year average. However, low soil moisture and high January–July temperatures resulted in flows that were only 75 percent of average. Climate models predict future warmer temperatures and reduced precipitation in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB), which would reduce water available to humans and ecosystems.
First posted February 7, 2011
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Belnap, Jayne, and Campbell, D.H., 2011, Effects of climate change and land use on water resources in the Upper Colorado River Basin: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2010–3123, 6 p.