Published On: Fri, Jul 25th, 2014

NASA Study: Water reserves in Colorado River basin low levels ‘shocking,’ unknown when it runs out

The western U.S. has battling droughts over the last decade and a new NASA study points to worse times ahead and level of uncertainty. The underground resources in the Colorado River Basin are lower than expected and a greater threat of drought that previously thought.

Photo/Ahzaryamed via Wikimedia Commons

Photo/Ahzaryamed via Wikimedia Commons

The study by NASA and the University of California, Irvine found that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. It is the first time researchers have quantified the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states, NASA said.

The research team measured the change in water mass monthly from December 2004 to November 2013, using data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin. Changes in water mass are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface.

The basin has lost nearly 53 million acre feet of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total – about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) – was from groundwater, according to a statement by NASA on the project.

 “We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at UC Irvine, and the study’s lead author, said in the statement. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”



The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwestern United States, and the water source is relied upon by 40 million people. The basin covers Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. 

 The surface water in the basin is regulated by the US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), but the groundwater is regulated by the individual states. Some states, like California, have no groundwater management rules. Others, like Arizona, have gone so far as to transfer surface water from the Colorado River into underground aquifers for later use, the Washington Post reported.

“We have made substantial progress addressing Colorado River water management over the past several years,” Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor said in a statement. “From the interim guidelines for shortage and surplus in 2007, the 2012 signing of Minute 319 to the treaty with Mexico and the latest WaterSMART funding announcements supporting new projects and studies, we remain focused on wise use and new technologies to address upcoming gaps in supply and demand.”

But last week, USBR announced that Lake Mead – the reservoir created by the Hoover Dam – had reached its lowest water level since the lake’s initial filling in the 1930s. Since 2000, the lake has lost 4 trillion gallons of water, according to CBS News. It now sits 130 feet below the high-water mark last reached at the turn of the century, and at 39 percent of total capacity. Scientists have determined that the dry spell since 2000 in the Colorado River Basin is one of the most severe in more than 1,200 years.

“It’s time for us to wake up. If this drought continues, we’re going to be in a terrible situation within the next 12-24 months,” Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the Desert Sun.

The 2012 drought was declared the worst in U.S. history – more HERE



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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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