The Colorado River rarely reaches the sea. Here's why

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2024-03-28 21:00:17

For most of its 6 million-year existence, the Colorado River ran from the Continental Divide, high in the Rocky Mountains, downward and west, through forest and red rock, to a lush delta at the northernmost tip of the Gulf of California. Its winding descent carved, among other wonders, what people now call the Grand Canyon.

Today, the Colorado is so siphoned and stalled by canals and dams that only a trickle of its water ever reaches the sea. Its terminus is now a salt flat.

Nineteen percent of the Colorado River is consumed by the natural environment — wetlands and riparian areas, the study found. The rest is taken by people, primarily to grow feed for livestock.

Water for cattle-feed crops — alfalfa and other grasses — accounted for roughly one-third (32%) of the Colorado River's annual flow, the study found. Agriculture accounts for about three times the usage of cities.

"We consume every single drop," said Brian Richter, a senior freshwater fellow for the World Wildlife Fund, president of Sustainable Waters and the study's lead author. "And yet, there's never been a complete and detailed accounting for where all that water is going. So we felt it was about time to do that."

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