More than half of Colorado River water used to irrigate agricultural land

Apr 1, 2024

new study has quantified just how much Colorado River water is consumed by the agricultural industry. Agricultural irrigation is responsible for over half of overall water consumption, and for three-fourths of direct human use, according to the study published last week in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. The study found that irrigation uses more water than all other direct uses—industrial and municipal—combined, and irrigating cattle feed crops including alfalfa and other grass hays is responsible for almost half of all direct water consumption. As Jonathan Thompson writes in High Country News, it’s tempting to blame desert cities and to want to see them make cuts, but these communities, together with non-agricultural industries, account for only 14 percent of Colorado River water use.

In addition to direct use of water, additional water is lost from the river as temperatures rise due to human-caused climate change. The volume of the Colorado River has decreased 19 percent decrease in the river’s volume since 2000, with the decrease expected to reach 30 percent by 2050. The study comes as Colorado River basin states and the federal government continue to negotiate how to allocate and use Colorado River water in the future as demand increases and supply decreases.

“It’s really intriguing to me to think about how the Western landscape is going to have to change,” said Brian Richter, one of the authors of the study. “What we’re talking about is not unlike the fossil fuel industry, especially coal, as it goes into decline. The ramifications for regional and local economies and the culture and social fabric of communities are even going to be greater, especially for agricultural communities.”

2024 state legislative debrief: Utah

So much for small government: Utah’s state legislature considered 862 bills and resolutions and sent 591 of those to the desk of Governor Spencer Cox, including several related to public lands, energy, water, mining, wildlife, wildfire, and more. Most of these reflect the Utah legislature’s anti-conservation and pro-fossil fuel leanings, but a number of pro-conservation ideas were also put forward and a few of those actually passed. In a new blog post, Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Rachael Hamby summarizes the highlights and lowlights of Utah’s 2024 session.

Quick hits

A national monument in east Las Vegas? Some Nevadans hope so

Nevada Independent

Why Utah lawmakers shut down a free-market solution to climate change

Salt Lake Tribune

Biden administration restores threatened species protections dropped by Trump administration

Associated Press

Uranium mining ramps up near Grand Canyon as prices soar

Associated Press

Surge of new U.S.-led oil and gas activity threatens to wreck Paris climate goals

The Guardian

Colorado lawmakers reject proposed ban on new oil and gas drilling after 2030

Colorado Sun

Study finds quick wildfire suppression leads to larger, more intense fires

Daily Montanan

Editorial: Public lands in Utah take two steps forward and one step back

Salt Lake Tribune

Quote of the day

Despite the incessant caterwauling — and lawsuits — from Utah politicians opposing Barack Obama’s 2016 designation of the 1.3 million acre [Bears Ears] monument, which was long sought by five sovereign Tribal nations who have populated the area for millennia, the preservation of these ancestral lands is the right thing to do.”

Salt Lake Tribune editorial board


Picture This


Let’s welcome the season with a blanket of wildflowers at Carrizo Plain National Monument in California. When conditions are right, numerous wildflowers can carpet the valley floor, creating a beautiful landscape of color.
When visiting public lands with wildflowers this spring, please remember to always:
🌼 Stay on designated trails
🌸 Visit on weekdays and/or off-peak hours, if possible
🌼 Do not pick or trample wildflowers
🌸 Remember your experience through photos and leave no trace
The Carrizo Plain National Monument offers visitors a rare opportunity to be alone with nature, but you need to be prepared as services such as water, food or fuel are not available. For alternative wildflower viewing areas, visit Merced River Recreation Management Area, Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument and Fort Ord National Monument.
Photo by Curtis Kautzer
Feature image: An alfalfa field in Arizona, Chris English via Wikimedia Commons