With a warming climate and more water being taken out for growing communities, the West’s rivers and lakes are in danger of drying up.
A healthy river provides clean water, refills groundwater, supports abundant fish and wildlife, and offers many recreational opportunities. However, pressure from increased withdrawals of water (called diversions), dams, and climate change mean there is less and less water staying in rivers and natural lakes.
Reduced water levels in rivers can cause:
- A loss of wetlands, which are key ecosystems that clean water and also mitigate flooding;
- The spread of algae blooms and invasive species, such as tamarisk and predator fish;
- Decline in the abundance of native fish and wildlife;
- Reduced recreational opportunities and related economic activity; and
- Increased water pollution.
Low water in rivers and lakes also reduces recreational opportunities, such as rafting and fishing, which are a significant part of the West’s economy. For example, the Colorado River supports a $26.4 billion recreational economy.