Water Supply Risk on the Colorado River: Can Management Mitigate?


Water supply changes on the Colorado River due to climate change pose many reliability questions for consumers as well as ecological concerns for the entire watershed. This case study assesses demand growth scenarios superimposed on historical climate variables to generate projections for the timespan from 2008 to 2057. Overall, the analysis suggests that flexibility in current management practices could reduce many of the risks associated with change in river flow caused by climate change.


  • The reliability of the water supply from the Colorado River has been the base supporting population growth and expansion in the U.S. southwest.
  • Reservoir storage is especially critical during periods of drought.
  • Watershed management in the U.S. southwest are constantly evaluating the Colorado River's resilience in meeting consumption objectives.
  • Evidence suggests annual flow of the river will decline with climate change.

Discussion of Results

The analysis suggests that the river will "continue drying" at various amounts depending on the climate change scenario which does include a "no climate change" option. The analysis also consider population growth with increased water needs, and likelihood of multi-year droughts. Based on these findings, it is determined that there is a real threat to the water supply. This is consistent with previous studies done on the Colorado River. However, with flexible management practices the threat is not at a crisis levels and not likely to reach crisis levels within the timeframe covered in this study.

Related Partners

The Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to manage and monitor the conservation of wildlife habitats throughout the United States. This includes the direct management of the National Wildlife Refuge System for the wellfare of all American people, and using social science in the decision making process and utilization of management plans.

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