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Satellite Data, Teamwork Help Chart Future of Colorado River Basin

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The Central Arizona Project uses a network of hundreds of miles of pipelines and canals to distribute water from the Colorado River Basin to customers across the state. (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)
The Central Arizona Project uses a network of hundreds of miles of pipelines and canals to distribute water from the Colorado River Basin to customers across the state. (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)
 By Mark Richardson - Producer, Contact
January 15, 2021

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American West, but the viability of the massive river basin is being threatened by climate change.

To plan future water use in the region -- which includes Arizona -- the Central Arizona Project is teaming up with NASA and Arizona State University, to evaluate how climate and land-use changes will affect patterns of hydrology.

Using state-of-the-art satellite imaging, scientists will measure and evaluate how water flows throughout the basin. Professor in the Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration Enrique Vivoni, said their work will help apportion future supplies of Colorado River water.

"How will we, as a society in the western U.S. that depends on this hugely important river basin, adapt to changes that will come to the basin over the course of the next 50 to 100 years?" asked Vivoni.

The Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico under a system of international treaties, interstate compacts and court decrees. The scientific modeling will identify water-flow patterns in an area where water rights have long been contentious.

The Central Arizona Project, through a system of pipelines and canals, distributes Arizona's share of water from the basin. Mohammed Mahmoud, a senior policy analyst with the agency, said data they're developing now will be critical to future negotiations over water supplies.

"Can we use the most recent, most up-to-date climate information we have available?" asked Mahmoud. "With that, can we explore what the impacts are -- not just in the short term, not just in the next 10 to 20 years -- but long-term to determine, are there patterns that we can expect in the future?"

ASU's Vivoni said each of the three agencies brings a unique skill-set to the project.

"The Colorado River basin is an area of great interest for NASA, obviously for the Central Arizona Project and for ASU," he explained. "And this is a perfect convergence of a federal agency, water management agency, and a university, to work together on a big problem."

Stakeholders in the basin are currently operating under a Drought Contingency Plan. It was last updated in 2019, and a new plan will be renegotiated to go into effect in 2026.

More information is online at 'CAP-AZ.com.' Search for 'DCP.'

Disclosure: Central Arizona Project contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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