More than half of the Colorado River’s water is being used for farming, study finds

Mar 28, 2024, 5:24 PM | Updated: Mar 29, 2024, 8:04 am

colorado river...

FILE - The Colorado River runs through lightly snow covered mountains April 12, 2023 near Burns, Colo. (Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily via AP, File)

(Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily via AP, File)

SALT LAKE CITY— The Colorado River has been struggling for years.

It’s seen a stark 20% decrease in its total flows since 2000 and scientists fear they will keep dropping if temperatures continue rising.

The river provides water to 40 million people in seven states, including Utah, as well as Mexico.

New research is shedding light on an important question regarding this issue.

What is the water being used for?

In a new study, researchers found that more than half of the water is used for farming. Of the millions of acre-feet of water pulled out of the river every year, 52% is used to irrigate farms.

Related: Oakley, Utah, adds new water source and lifts development freeze

One-third, 33%, of the river’s water is used to irrigate alfalfa and hay.

That’s almost double what any city or industry uses along the entire river. Those only use 18%.

Under the Colorado River compact of 1922, the upper basin, which includes Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado, and the lower basin, which includes California, Arizona and Nevada, both get 7.5-million acre-feet of water to pull from the river each year.

Utah gets 23% of the Upper Basin water. That’s just over 11% of the water between both basins.

Related: Lakebed dust is a worry in Utah. For California’s Salton Sea, it’s a full-blown problem

However, while it might seem like just a sliver of the pie, it provides Utah 27% of all its water, according to the Division of Water Resources.

Leaders between all states are currently negotiating new rules for managing the Colorado River. Those rules will likely include how much water states need to conserve.

Estimates in the science community vary, but on the low end, experts fear the river’s flows could drop another 10% by the year 2050.

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More than half of the Colorado River’s water is being used for farming, study finds