The West’s lifeblood

Water is arguably the West’s most precious natural resource, and in this slide deck we explore how people and climate change are altering the region’s hydrology.

Download Slides: Water in the American West (1923 downloads ) Download Notes: Water in the American West (2121 downloads ) Download Data: Water in the American West (1492 downloads )

Water in the American West from EcoWest on Vimeo.

Key points

  • The American West is facing a water crisis that is being compounded by population growth and climate change.
  • In most parts of the West, water is an especially scarce resource. The 11 coterminous Western states average just 18 inches of precipitation per year compared to 37 inches for the United States as a whole.
  • Scientists believe climate change will make the Southwest even drier and shrink the snowpack in many locations.
  • Although per capita water use has declined over the past few decades, total municipal demand is increasing as cities continue to grow.
  • Laws like the Clean Water Act have reduced pollution, and Western streams tend to have better water quality than streams in other regions. Lakes, meanwhile, are in poorer condition. Nutrient loading and degraded lakeshore habitat pose the greatest threats in the West.
  • The nation’s water infrastructure is crumbling, with hundreds of billions required to fix dams, levees, sewage plants, and drinking water systems.
  • Looking ahead, proposed water management strategies include water conservation, water reuse, reforms to state water laws, expanded water markets, and desalination.

To learn more about water-related issues, see The Water Desk, a new journalism initiative at the University of Colorado Boulder directed by EcoWest founder Mitch Tobin.

Visualizing environmental trends