Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): colorado river

Averting a looming crisis on the Colorado River

It’s finally time to celebrate that federal and state agencies as well as local water districts have agreed on the terms of Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) agreements in both the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins to manage water more sustainably.

The DCP is intended to incentivize water conservation while protecting existing water rights, recognizing the values of the basin’s agricultural communities and respecting the need to protect the basin’s environmental resources.

Representatives from the seven Colorado River Basin states gathered in Phoenix today to mark the historic milestone and publish a joint letter to Congress. In the letter, the states urge Congress to pass federal legislation by April 22 to authorize the Department of Interior to implement the DCP to address “a looming crisis.” Read More »

Posted in western water / Also tagged , , | Leave a comment

Critically low Lake Mead levels highlight need for Arizona action

Lake Mead water users this week learned we once again narrowly avoided water cutbacks by the skin of our teeth.

A 24-month projection released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shows we skirted federal mandatory water cuts for now, but prospects for 2020 do not look good. The forecast found Lake Mead water levels will end this month at 1,079 feet – a mere four feet away from the 1,075-feet threshold that would trigger a federal shortage declaration and mandatory cuts.

The report predicted Lake Mead will dip just below the threshold to 1,075 feet as early as May 2019 – in nine months. At the beginning of 2020, Lake Mead levels are predicted to be at approximately 1,070 feet and then predicted to fall to as low as 1,053 feet in the summer of 2020.

An official shortage declaration has been staved off until at least August 2019. That’s when the next key projection comes out, for January 1, 2020.

Water elevation of Lake Mead has been declining in recent years. (Data: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, western water / Also tagged , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

Where’s the snow!? What a dry winter might mean for Colorado

We finally got a little dusting of snow last weekend. But snowpack in Colorado and throughout the West remains exceptionally low.

La Niña has wreaked havoc on weather systems around the country, sending storms to Baton Rouge, San Antonio and Boston, while Colorado, California and pretty much the entire Southwest United States stay dry. Colorado is at 68% of normal snowpack with the southwest Rockies in even worse shape. The Sierra Nevada snowpack – a key source of California’s water supply – is at 30% of average. Many parts of New Mexico have received less than a half inch of rain, making it one of the driest starts to a water year on record in the state.

Read More »

Posted in western water / Also tagged , , , , | Comments are closed

Teetering on the edge of disaster. What’s next for the Salton Sea?

We’ve seen it coming for years. The Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, has been in a slow and steady decline for decades. And things are likely to get worse at the end of the year.

That is, unless the state steps up and honors its commitment to manage and restore the sea.

A looming deadline

The Salton Sea was created in 1905 when floods breached a levee on the Colorado River, sending a wall of water through Imperial Valley and to the Salton Sink, a natural desert bowl roughly 230 feet below sea level. Water accumulated there and ultimately created the Salton Sea. For decades after that Colorado River water continued to sustain the sea as it passed through Imperial Valley farms as irrigation runoff.

Read More »

Posted in western water / Also tagged , , , , , | Read 6 Responses

4 reasons why Arizona water is on the right track

The Lake Mead “bathtub rings,'” as seen from Hoover Dam.

Drought is the new normal in Arizona and the Colorado River Basin. The Colorado River is over-allocated, and potential reductions in Arizona water deliveries have become more and more likely.

Just last summer, we watched Lake Mead drop to one of its lowest levels ever. And even with a wet winter this year, Lake Mead’s elevation remains low. The river that provides 40 percent of Arizona’s water supplies needs our help.

A new deal

This summer, several parties came together to sign a “system conservation” agreement to address the situation. The State of Arizona, City of Phoenix, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Walton Family Foundation agreed to compensate the Gila River Indian Community to leave 40,000 acre feet of its 2017 Colorado River water entitlement in Lake Mead.

This is about 1.3 billion gallons of water, which is roughly the amount needed to serve 100,000 people in a year. The conserved water is designated as “system water” to help keep Lake Mead from falling below 1,075 feet – the elevation at which a federal shortage declaration is triggered and water delivery reductions are mandated (as stated in the proposed Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan between Arizona, California, Nevada and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation).

Read More »

Posted in western water / Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Inclusion and collaboration: Governor Ducey has a new strategy for water in Arizona

Governor Ducey has a new strategy for water conservation in ArizonaLast week, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey illustrated strong and consistent leadership in addressing Arizona’s pressing water supply needs with two significant announcements.

A powerful voice for water

First, Governor Ducey appointed longtime water attorney and Gila River Indian Community member Rodney Lewis to the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) Board of Directors. This appointment was widely applauded across the region as a positive step, most notably as a sign that including diverse voices in water management decisions is key in moving the state toward improved sustainability and collaboration, both within Arizona and with regional partners in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Read More »

Posted in western water / Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed

Leasing water – a novel idea to combat “buy and dry” in Colorado

ColoradoAs populations in Colorado and the West continue to grow, water is moving from farms to cities. The current practice of “buy and dry” in Colorado – buying farmland only for its water – is bad for farmers, bad for rural communities and bad for critical ecosystems across the state.

That’s why EDF and WestWater Research have been studying alternative methods for managing water in Colorado. In a new report released this past week, we analyzed Alternative Transfer Methods (ATMs) and developed recommendations that will allow for their implementation on a broader scale. Read More »

Posted in western water / Also tagged , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

3 investment ideas to sustain water in the American West

The Arizona Canal brings water to sprawling desert communities near Phoenix.

The Arizona Canal brings water to sprawling desert communities near Phoenix.

The crippling drought in the American West is now making headlines daily and the stories are raising a collective awareness of the unfolding crisis – as The New Yorker did recently when it chronicled the plight of the Colorado in Where the River Runs Dry.

If there’s a silver lining to the Western water crisis, it’s that governors, state legislators and federal policymakers are finally taking action to ensure a reliable water supply.

These are welcome actions – except, top-down government mandates, while sometimes necessary, won’t result in the durable change we need to move from scarcity to sustainability.

Top-down mandates only work as long as there is political will to enforce them. In order to crack open the ossified structure that has dictated unsustainable water policy for more than a century, we need to build ground-level support for flexible solutions that benefit everyone – including cities, agriculture and, of course, the environment. Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, Sustainable Agriculture, western water / Also tagged , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

A new perspective on the risks to western lands and water

Photo credit: David Owen with support from Lighthawk.

EDF’s Jennifer Pitt prepares for her flight. EDF partnered with LightHawk to increase understanding of the impacts of water imports to population centers in Colorado’s Front Range. Photo credit: David Owen with support from LightHawk.

I’ve been a student of water use, storage and transportation for decades, but never before have I seen the collection and diversion systems from the air, other than a glimpse of a big reservoir from a commercial jet. That is, not until a few weeks ago, when I had the extraordinary opportunity to fly with a LightHawk volunteer pilot to see Colorado’s waterworks from the air.

Seeing the landscape from above gave me a completely new perspective.

The point of my trip was to see the effects that Colorado’s urban growth – with its increasing urban water demands – is having on the state’s working lands and rivers. One view painted a very clear picture: a footprint of idled farmland in Rocky Ford, Colorado.

Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, western water / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

The Colorado River Basin can’t afford to leave farmers out to dry

farmer irrigatingOn Colorado River Day, it’s worth considering how we can write the next chapter in the water story of the American West.

With the recent news that Lake Mead is at its lowest level in history, it’s impossible to ignore the trajectory of America’s hardest-working river. In the Colorado River Basin, we are already using more water annually than is being supplied by snowpack and other precipitation. The Bureau of Reclamation and others predict that this gap in water supply and demand will increase to nearly 4 million acre-feet by 2060, with significant shortages possible as early as 2017.

It has become clear that, over time, our water uses are going to have to change. In thinking about where – in what sectors – this change should take place, we must also consider the environmental, cultural and economic services that each sector provides.

Read More »

Posted in ecosystems, western water / Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments are closed