Colorado River and Drought

May 3rd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

An interesting article (registration required) in the 2 May 2004 New York Times on drought in the Colorado River Basin. A tell-it-like-it-is quote from the University of Utah’s Daniel C. McCool:

“The law of the river is hopelessly, irretrievably obsolete, designed on a hydrological fallacy, around an agrarian West that no longer exists. After six years of drought, somebody will have to say the emperor has no clothes.”

But if the following statement from the New York Times is true …

“Continuing research into drought cycles over the last 800 years bears this out, strongly suggesting that the relatively wet weather across much of the West during the 20th century was a fluke.”

… then the period we are currently in is not so much “drought” as “normal”. In other words, get used to it.

You can find a graph of snowpack in the Colorado part of the Colorado River basin here. (It shows a slightly more favorable snowpack than reported in the Times, but not by much.)

And, “about getting used to it” my colleagues Doug Kenney, Bobbie Klein, and Martyn Clark have a very interesting paper (in PDF) on the effectiveness of mandatory and voluntary lawn watering restrictions implemented in 2002 in the Front
Range communities of Colorado.

For more information on water in the west see our project, Western Water Assessment.


Kenney, D.,R. Klein, and M. Clark, Use and Effectiveness of Municipal Water Restrictions During Drought in Colorado. Journal of the American Water Resources Association, February 2004, 77-87.

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