Hearing shines spotlight on Colorado River woes

The dried up delta where the Colorado River reaches the Sea of Cortez
The dried up delta where the Colorado River reaches the Sea of Cortez is symbolic of the challenges facing the river.More information at this NASA Earth Observatory website.

‘Make every drop count’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The Colorado River took center stage in Congress for a few hours this week, as the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power focused on a recent Colorado River study that predicts a growing gap between what the demand for water and what the river can deliver.

The hearing was chaired Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, who knows first-hand what is at stake, from the headwaters in the mighty Rockies down to the Gulf of California. Business as usual just won’t cut it, Udall said, advocating for a short-term focus on conservation, innovation and better management of supply. A video of the hearing, as well as the written testimony of the witnesses, is online here.

“These strategies … will help us prepare for the future and reduce the River Basin’s vulnerabilities,” Udall said in a statement released after the hearing. “In the near-term, we need to focus — and I think we must — on conservation activities and water reuse and recycling. In short, we need to make every drop count.”

Udall’s leadership on the issue was music to the ears of conservation advocates, who for years have been urging for smarter water use to help protect the river’s natural resource values.

“We thank Sen. Mark Udall for initiating these hearings, and we urge senators to seize the opportunity to move past the status quo for Colorado River water management,” said Scott Yates, director of TU’s Western Water Project. “Trout Unlimited is committed to proactive, pragmatic solutions. We’ve put these solutions to work throughout the West, by partnering with agricultural producers and private landowners on win-win efficiency upgrades and habitat restoration projects,” Yates said.

“Thirty-six million Americans depend on the Colorado River for drinking water, thousands of farmers need its water to irrigate their crops, and a quarter million Americans depend upon its flow for their jobs in the recreation industry the river supports,” said Molly Mugglestone, co-director of Protect the Flows, a coalition of more than 850 businesses that depend on a healthy Colorado River.

“As demand now exceeds supply on the river system’s water, this economic lifeline of the West is drying up. Fortunately, the Colorado River Basin study confirmed that we can bring the river back into balance in a cost effective fashion through improving urban water re-use, urban and agricultural water conservation and instituting flexible, market-based policies like water banking,” Mugglestone said.

In late 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study showed that demand in recent years has already outpaced river flows. The future looks even more challenging, with an 8-9 percent reduction in flows forecast by 2060, due to climate change, persistent drought and other factors.

The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, supply water used to irrigate nearly 5.5 million acres of land and are also the lifeblood for at least 22 federally recognized tribes, seven National Wildlife Refuges, four National Recreation Areas and 11 National Parks.


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