Where Did the Water Go?

The Heartland Institute

Colorado River managers have struggled most of my life to administer interstate agreements in the face of dwindling flows. It was a perennial issue long before anyone heard of global warming, yet we’re now told that is why the river has less water than it used to.

Two career U.S. Geological Survey bureaucrats have published a paper claiming the Colorado River has 20 percent less water than a century ago, and climate change is the cause. The press is eating it up, but the conclusion is patently absurd.

The paper, incidentally, was privately printed, in an academic journal you must subscribe to if you want to read it. So, the conclusion is not official policy just because the writers are on the public dole. Still, this represents an evolution in thinking by Colorado River watchers. For years water project opponents claimed there just wasn’t any more water, which they blamed on bad engineering. We were repeatedly told, by no less an authority than the Colorado River District itself, that the engineers who wrote the Interstate agreements in 1922 and 1948 were wrong about the River averaging 15 million acre feet annually, because they only had information from a few unusually wet years. In fact, they were the best engineers in the world, and they had decades of information. They knew exactly how much water was there.

Unquestionably, there is less water in the river now, but why?

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