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One of many fishing boats abandoned on the delta since the Colorado River stopped running to the sea in the late 1990s. (Photo courtesy: Peter McBride)

LAS VEGAS -- Rising demand and falling supply have water managers in the arid West projecting that the Colorado River won't be able to meet the demands over the next 50 years of a population of 40 million people and growing.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday issued what he termed ``a call to action'' along with a three-year study of the river, its flows and its ability to meet the future needs of city-dwellers, Native Americans, businesses, ranchers and farmers in seven Western states.

The study found the population in the West could double, while today's drought-stricken Colorado River is expected to only recover about 85 percent of its historic flows.

Arizona State University Climate expert Dr. Randy Cerveny said Arizona has been in a drought for 12 to 15 years. He expects that to continue for at least five more years and he's especially concerned about the Colorado River, which is the lifeblood of the Southwest water supply.

"The Colorado River is over used already and you can't put a greater demand on it," he said. "The Colorado doesn't even reach the Gulf of California anymore. Before we try some of the ideas being suggested...there will probably massive water rate increases which could force people to leave the Valley because the cost of living would go up."

The report dismisses some proposals, such as towing icebergs from Alaska, as impractical. But Salazar says there is ``no one solution'' to the challenge.

"People do not want to be in a position where they have to choose between a healthy economy and the health of their environment," said Arizona Nature Conservancy Director Pat Graham, adding that some of his group's solutions focus on banking conserved water and restoring the health of our forests and watersheds.

KTAR's Jim Cross contributed to this report.

Associated Press,

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