‘Wet’ era looms for Colorado River Basin, analysis finds

By Jennifer Yachnin | 05/09/2024 01:26 PM EDT

Although the analysis suggests that rising temperatures have contributed to lower Colorado River flows in recent decades, precipitation plays a significantly larger role in the health of the waterway.

Colorado River.

A boat moves along Wahweap Bay along the Upper Colorado River Basin on June 9, 2021, at the Utah and Arizona border near Wahweap, Arizona. Ross Franklin/AP

New research suggests an end in sight for the megadrought gripping the Colorado River Basin — and even a “partial” recovery for the major waterway after decades of dwindling flows.

Researchers with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, published their findings in the Journal of Climate earlier this month.

“The chances are better than not that we’ll improve our situation,” said Martin Hoerling, who spent more than three decades as a meteorologist in NOAA’s Physical Sciences Laboratory in Boulder and is now a lecturer at the University of Colorado.


The new analysis suggests that natural cycles for precipitation are expected to swing into a wet cycle, potentially restoring flows in the drought-stricken waterway. But due to the 20 percent decrease in flows in recent decades, increases in precipitation would create only a “partial” recovery.