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Report: In SoCal, Colorado River is Major Economic Driver

PHOTO: Seven California counties depend heavily on Colorado River water, and a new study by Arizona State University quantifies just how much their economies would suffer if less water is available. Photo of Palo Verde Dam near Blythe, Calif., by Sandra J. Owen-Boyce, U.S. Geological Survey.
PHOTO: Seven California counties depend heavily on Colorado River water, and a new study by Arizona State University quantifies just how much their economies would suffer if less water is available. Photo of Palo Verde Dam near Blythe, Calif., by Sandra J. Owen-Boyce, U.S. Geological Survey.
January 16, 2015

LOS ANGELES — A little more than half the economy of Southern California is dependent in some way on the health of the Colorado River system, according to a new report that quantifies the value of the river to the seven Western states that use it.

Researchers at Arizona State University found that about 7 million jobs are affected by industries that use Colorado River water in seven California counties,

Kevin Tilden, California vice president of American Water, a company that manages investor-owned water utilities around the state, said these findings broaden the outlook beyond recreation and farming.

"I think, when they see the images of the reservoirs at low levels, they think of this boating season - or this growing season, if they're in agriculture," he said. "And I think the study says, really, the economic impact of the trillions of dollars is such that we need to be thinking about the much longer term."

In California, Tilden said, the report underscores the importance of the massive water bond passed by voters in November.

The research indicates Colorado River water is the lifeblood of many communities, with an overall economic effect of $1.4 trillion across the seven states. It also said federal agencies should do a better job of collecting and reporting water usage data.

Report authors said their research is the first of its kind to quantify economic impact to a wide variety of industries, from real estate to health care, finance, manufacturing and more.

Dr. Timothy James, a study co-author and professor of economics at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State, said his team created an economic model for each of the seven states in the Colorado Basin, and combined them.

"And then, we work out how much water is entailed in all the different production processes," he said. "So, it then tells us how much each sector is reliant on water, and then what would happen if that water was no longer available - how much would you be able to produce?"

James noted that it's unlikely every drop of Colorado River water would go away, so the study results can be adjusted by percentage of water loss. But demand already exceeds the supply, and the report concluded that even a 10 percent decrease in available water could mean a hit of more than $143 billion to the Basin states.

The report is online at protectflows.com.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CA