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New Study: Colorado River Inextricably Linked to State's Economy

PHOTO: A new study quantifies the value of the Colorado River to a variety of industries across the seven Basin states, and says it is directly linked to the health of Colorado’s economy. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
PHOTO: A new study quantifies the value of the Colorado River to a variety of industries across the seven Basin states, and says it is directly linked to the health of Colorado’s economy. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
January 23, 2015

DENVER - The health of the Colorado River is linked, in a big way, to the health of Colorado's economy.

A new study from Arizona State University - the first of its kind to quantify the impact of potential water shortages by industry - found the river contributed more than $188 billion to Colorado's economy in a single year.

"No water in the West would basically wipe out the West, in terms of economic activity in all of its forms - agricultural, industrial, residential, whatever," said Tim James, an Arizona State economics professor who worked on the study. "It would mean that we would just have a decimated economy, really, and there would be no reason for us, actually, to be here."

Colorado is one of seven states that make up the Colorado River Basin, along with Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The study found that the river generates $1.4 trillion of economic activity in the Basin states, including 16 million jobs.

The demand for water from the Colorado River already exceeds the supply, and that deficit is only expected to grow as populations grow in Colorado Basin states. Real estate is one industry the report said would be hit hard without enough water in the river.

Dennis Saffell of Coldwell Banker Mountain Properties in Winter Park, who has been selling property along the Colorado for more than 30 years, said that in that time he's seen river levels drop by half.

"If it continues to go the way it is, the real estate values are going down," he said, "but worse, the overall economy is going down. We've got to change the way we administer our water."

As Colorado wades into developing its own water plan this year, Saffell said all options have to be on the table. Cities have to conserve more aggressively and reuse water, and agriculture needs to be more efficient. In Colorado, the report said, coming up short could put 36 million people's drinking water, food and the state's economy in jeopardy.

The report is online at protectflows.com.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO