The incredible shrinking Colorado River

Climate change and rising demand are sucking the life out of the Southwest’s water supply.

One of the most visible signs of the state of the West’s water supply is the big bathtub ring around the sandstone rim of Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir. Whenever the massive hydrological system that delivers water to the lake dwindles, the whitewash halo grows, shrinking only when — or rather, if — that system is replenished by rain and winter snows.

By July 23, the halo occupied some 150 vertical feet of shoreline, showing that the lake’s surface had fallen to its lowest level since 1969, before it was completely filled for the first time. Boat-launch ramps, which had already been extended repeatedly, were finally unusable. The hydropower-generating capacity of Glen Canyon Dam was in danger of disappearing altogether. Even more worrisome, though, is what the diminishing reservoir tells us: The Colorado River watershed is terminally ill.

Two decades of climate change-induced drought and rising temperatures, combined with ever-growing demand, have put the entire water system — and the flora and fauna and more than 40 million people that rely on it — into serious trouble. Now local, state and federal water managers are being forced to reckon with a frightening reality: the incredible shrinking Colorado River system.

Read the rest of the story at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
High Country News

High Country News


Working to inform and inspire people — through in-depth journalism — to act on behalf of the West’s diverse natural and human communities.