ENVIRONMENT

New study suggests climate change could help Colorado River

May 10, 2024, 5:00 AM

FILE: The Colorado River is pictured near Moab in Grand County on Friday, April, 26, 2024....

FILE: The Colorado River is pictured near Moab in Grand County on Friday, April, 26, 2024. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY— Scientists have worried that climate change could continue to wear down the Colorado River. But a new study thinks it could do the opposite.

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences looked into the issue at Lees Ferry, downstream from Lake Powell in Arizona, through which 85% of the river’s water flows.

They predicted climate change would increase precipitation in the Upper Basin states, like Utah, between 2026 and 2050. Researchers believe that extra water could increase the river’s flows by 5% to 7%.

Climate change and the Colorado River

Utah’s Colorado River Commissioner, Gene Shawcroft, told KSL NewsRadio this effect would be great news on the heels of years of drought.

“That would help us tremendously,” Shawcroft said.

However, researchers also found increased variability in projected precipitation totals from 2026 to 2050.

“Extreme low and high flows are more likely,” the study authors said.

Climate change may make precipitation amounts less predictable. How much rain and snow falls in the Upper Basin could swing to the best or to the worst.

The Colorado River supplies more than a quarter of Utah’s water and serves more than 40 million people from Wyoming to Mexico.

The river’s flows have already dropped by 20% since 2000. Some scientists still fear climate change could make the problem worse.

Another recent study also shed light on the river’s struggles, finding more than half of the river’s allocated water is being pulled out for farming.

Shawcroft said he hoped snow in the coming winters might help the entire Colorado River, especially Lake Powell which is still only about 32% full.

“There is a lot of work yet to be done,” he said.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

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New study suggests climate change could help Colorado River