In the arid West, water is life. And life may get a lot more difficult for the Colorado River – a major source of water for Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California – over the next few decades.
First, there’s the double whammy of population growth and climate change, the first demanding more water from the river, and the second making it extremely likely that there will be less water for that population to drink, use to grow crops, etc.
Second, there’s the threat from oil shale development. The Bush administration pushed through midnight regulations last month to spur development of oil shale deposits in Colorado and Utah. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that it will take three gallons of precious West Slope Colorado water to produce one gallon of fossil fuel. And while no one in the world has yet figured out how to develop shale commercially, Shell – which is researching and investing in oil shale – has already bought large numbers of water rights in the Colorado River basin. That has the water buffalos at the Denver Water Board worried.
Now a news report highlights that as river flows dwindle, a toxic witch’s brew of pollution from revved up uranium mining and oil and gas development – boosted by rising fuel prices and lax oversight by the Bush administration – may foul the Colorado. Combine less water and more pollution, and the picture for the future of the arid West gets muddier than the Colorado. Our need to press ahead with renewable energy also gets a lot more urgent – if we want to keep drinking water.