Cities in the watershed depend on the Colorado River with ambitions to grow and have to share in the pain. It is unfair to expect the agricultural sector to make painful austerity cuts, even as some states envision an unrealistic future in which additional water can be diverted for growing populations. Cities have to adapt and there are proven models for that.
The climate and the world are changing. What challenges will the future bring and how should we respond to them?
For example, the Las Vegas metro area has managed to stretch its tiny 1.8 percent of the river by recycling and removing enough grass to circle the globe, saving billions of gallons of water. It actually grew while Reduce the consumption of the Colorado River over the past two decades. Other cities can learn from the example of Las Vegas. Outdoor irrigation is a major driver of water consumption, but decorative, water-guzzling grasses in medians and along roads — with no practical purpose — punctuate the southwest. Investing in recycling and grass conversion can enable water managers to expand their water resources.
But matching current supply with demand is not enough to correct flaws in river water regulations. In addition to overestimating the supply, the Law of the River is riddled with injustices and has historically ignored the interests of indigenous communities and the environment.
At a recent conference in Boulder, Colorado, Jennifer Pitt of the National Audubon Society said the river’s framework “may not function today for those who have water rights, but for those stakeholders and interests that have never been included, starting with.” with the compact , it never worked.” Thirty Native American tribes in the Colorado River Basin have priority over more than a fifth of the river, but many of their communities have no access to that water. And because the agreements for the river prioritize the maximum use of water (and then some), so much water is removed that the river rarely reaches the once-biodiverse delta where it should flow into the Gulf of California in Mexico.
Ms. Pitt, the head of Audubon’s Colorado River Project, and other experts at the conference said it is imperative not only to plan a river where supply meets demand, but to go one step further — to save more water and move away from life on the ‘razor blade’, where crisis management trumps every other value.
It took a web of policies to build the system we have today, and it will take a web of guidelines, investment and coordination to reshape our relationship with the river. Whereas the ‘developing’ of the West was once an imposition of brutal will, supported by unrealistic water forecasts, today’s work is quite the opposite: a reality check about our climate and our need to make do with less water.
Daniel Rothberg is a reporter for The Nevada Independent, where he covers the environment, water and energy. He’s writing a book on water scarcity in Nevada.