How Population and Oil Shale Are Expected to Impact the State's Water Supply

January 2011

In dusty southern Nevada, officials responsible for managing water are looking east, to Colorado's mountains, with a sense of hope this year. The snowpack on our peaks, some of which will serve as the headwaters for the powerful Colorado River, is about 40 percent above average for this time of year, and that could mean one of the best water years in a decade for states west of the Continental Divide, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

But a new report from Colorado's Statewide Water Supply Initiative finds the state will need as many as one million more acre-feet of water by 2050, notes the Grand Junction Sentinel. Even with a few good snow years, Colorado will find it difficult to meet any demands, as the population is expected to balloon to about 10 million people, doubling water use. Currently, Colorado is entitled to about half of the 6.5 million acre feet of water that flow through the Colorado River Basin, much of it going to the Front Range. But rising population along the Western Slope and the possible development of an oil shale industry, which would rely on water to extract fossil fuels, will further strain water supplies and potentially cause conflicts. 

The findings add validity to a recent analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which found about one-third of counties across the United States would be facing shortages by the 2050s. In Colorado, 55 percent of counties were deemed "at risk" for water shortages in years to come. Some cities have long been planning for the day when water is harder to come by, including Colorado Springs, which is pushing a massive pipeline project that would controversially move water from the Pueblo Reservoir (via the Gazette).