Growing Returns

10 ways policymakers can support climate resilience in the West

It seems every day I come across a heartbreaking headline about how extreme heat, wildfires and ongoing drought are plaguing the West.

Indeed, the climate crisis has hit home in the Colorado River Basin and is threatening everything from agriculture to water supplies. The basin’s two main reservoirs­ — Lakes Powell and Mead — are at record low water levels, threatening the water security essential to communities, wildlife, recreation and agricultural production across the Southwest.

To help policymakers address these pressing climate challenges, EDF contributed to a recent report, Ten Strategies for Climate Resilience in the Colorado River Basin, authored by Martin & McCoy and Culp & Kelly, LLP, that analyzed multiple approaches to building climate resilience and identified the top 10 priorities. Read More »

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This landmark water conservation agreement is good news for Arizona. We need more like it.

Water scarcity in the Colorado River is becoming more urgent by the day. As temperatures soar to record levels — 122 degrees in Phoenix last month — Lake Mead has plummeted to 37% of its capacity, the lowest level since the nation’s largest reservoir was filled in 1935.

Amid this dire picture comes one significant piece of good news: In the largest ever multisector response to drought, final funding has been committed to enable the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) to conserve nearly 49 billion gallons of water (or 150,000 acre-feet) in Lake Mead over three years.

This project is the largest single conservation effort to date, both in dollars and volume of water, in the Colorado River Basin. It is a harbinger of the unprecedented collaboration that will be required going forward to build resilience to climate change and water scarcity in the West.

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Texas leaders made a big mistake ignoring water this session. But not all hope is lost.

Last weekend I paddled on the Blanco River with my family. We swam in spring-fed swimming holes, fly fished and lounged in shallow sections of the river, which was flowing nicely thanks to recent rains that ended drought conditions across Texas.

But it’s hard to ignore that Texas is sitting in the shadow of one of the worst droughts in history — one that’s crippling the rest of the West.

As temperatures rise and groundwater levels remain low with little rain in the forecast, it is imperative that we develop solutions to manage our water supplies more sustainably.

Unfortunately, state leaders put water on the back burner this legislative session, failing to take action on several water bills — even a benign bill to study groundwater and surface water interactions. But just because state leaders haven’t taken action doesn’t mean we can’t.

Here are three steps that all Texans can take now to build momentum behind protecting our rivers, streams and groundwater. Read More »

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As drought persists, Colorado water funding comes just in time

Update: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill June 24 to provide $20 million to water projects.

Despite some recent rains, nearly half of Colorado remains in a drought and about one-third of the state in severe, extreme or exceptional drought. Urgent action is still needed.

Colorado Drought Map

Fortunately, higher-than-expected sports betting dollars are just the first in a hat trick of three new funding streams that can deliver critical water projects in the state. Here are the three big plays: Read More »

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Pristine streams in Texas need protection. It’s up to the state Senate to act.

The first time I paddled the Nueces River I was blown away by the water — crystal clear, aqua colored, almost tropical. I could easily see the bottom of the river many feet below me and fish as they darted under my kayak.

Fed by springs that percolate up from groundwater beneath the Edwards Plateau, the Nueces is among the last remaining uniquely pure waterways in Texas.

More development is leading to an increase in discharge permit applications in Texas, putting pristine waterways like the Nueces at risk.

House Bill 4146 by Rep. Tracy King (D-Laredo) and Senate Bill 1747 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) in the state Legislature will protect these unspoiled streams and rivers by prohibiting wastewater discharges in them. HB 4146 has passed the House and now awaits a hearing in the Senate Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

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3 ways this accounting platform will help California groundwater agencies transition to sustainable supplies

This blog is co-authored by Tara Moran, president and CEO of the California Water Data Consortium.

As California grapples with another drought, farmers and water agencies will again lean on groundwater to offset declines in surface water supplies stemming from paltry snowmelt and corresponding low reservoirs and river flows.

However, there is at least one major difference from the last drought: Since then, more than 250 groundwater agencies have been created and have spent the last several years compiling data on their region’s groundwater supply and demand. To comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) many groundwater agencies are now considering new tools to use this data to support groundwater management decisions.

Today, Environmental Defense Fund, the California Department of Water Resources, the State Water Resources Control Board and the California Water Data Consortium announced a partnership to scale one of these tools: an open-source water accounting platform. Here are three reasons why this announcement is so important. Read More »

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As Texas drought worsens, two bills can advance sustainable, equitable groundwater management

Drought conditions are now confronting 75% of Texas, putting more pressure on critical water supplies.

Thirty-two cities or water supply entities in Texas are under voluntary or mandatory water restrictions. Flows in a majority of river basins across South Central Texas have dropped below or far below normal. And the Edwards Aquifer, which stretches across thousands of acres in South Central Texas and serves San Antonio, has dropped nearly 10 feet below average levels for March.

Amid this grim news, state lawmakers have the opportunity to take two important steps toward more sustainable and equitable management of vital water resources.

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California is facing another drought, but I’m still hopeful. Here are 3 reasons why.

It’s a daunting time to be working on water in California.

The Sierra snowpack measurement came in today at 59% of average statewide, making this the second dry winter in a row. The drought conditions led state and federal officials to announce last week painful water cuts for farmers and for municipal water systems that are already sending requests to customers to conserve water.

It’s disheartening to envision farmers again trying to make do with very limited supplies; salmon stranded in warm, dwindling rivers; and cities facing water cutbacks while wondering if the next wildfire will erupt in their neighborhood.

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Report provides guidance on repurposing California farmland to benefit water, landowners, communities and wildlife

Over the coming decades, California’s San Joaquin Valley will transition to sustainable groundwater management under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), ensuring reliable groundwater supplies for generations to come. Sustainable groundwater management and a changing climate will inevitably affect how land is used on a sweeping scale.

By some estimates, the amount of farmland that will have to be taken out of production to balance groundwater demand and supply is equivalent to the size of Yosemite National Park — a transition that could serve a huge blow to the agricultural economy, rural communities and the environment.  At the same time, farmers are also facing steep declines in surface water supplies from rivers and melted snowpack, largely driven by climate change, as they learned just this week.

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How to advance water security for Arizona? These 3 bills are a good start.

With dozens of water bills introduced in the Arizona Legislature this session, EDF Action and the Water for Arizona Coalition are focusing on long-overdue steps needed to ensure water security for all, especially rural communities that face high water risk.

Rural Arizona is the only substantial region left across the seven Colorado River Basin states where an “open access” approach to groundwater management is still the norm. This anything-goes approach puts people and ecosystems in rural Arizona at a disproportionate risk of water insecurity and economic instability. Read More »

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