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Groundwater loss in Colorado River basin threatens water security in west

The eastern Grand Canyon was about half-carved (to the level of the red cliffs above the hiker) from 15 million to 25 million years ago, an analysis published Sunday suggests. But the inner gorge was likely scooped out by the Colorado River in just the pa

Laura Crossey/University of New Mexico

The eastern Grand Canyon was about half-carved (to the level of the red cliffs above the hiker) from 15 million to 25 million years ago, an analysis published Sunday suggests. But the inner gorge was likely scooped out by the Colorado River in just the past 6 million years.

New research by NASA and UC Irvine shows that groundwater in the Colorado River basin is being depleted at an alarming rate.

The Colorado River basin is one of the most important sources of water for the west, providing irrigation to four million acres of farmland and drinking water for 40 million people in seven states and Mexico.

Using satellite imaging from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or GRACE, scientists were able to measure the volume of water in the basin. They found that the basin has lost 53 million acre feet of water since 2004, almost double the amount of water in the country's largest reservoir, Lake Mead in Nevada.

Almost 75 percent of the water lost was groundwater, which could compound the dwindling supply of water in the region due to 14 years of prolongued drought.

Senior author of the study Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UC Irvine, joined the show to talk about the implications of this report on the region's water security.


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