California offers to use less water from Colorado River as drought grips western US.The Colorado River water shortage is forcing tough choices in 7 states : NPR

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Our guest, ProPublica investigative reporter Abrahm Lustgarten, says the water shortage facing the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado is. Part of the reason why the Colorado River is shrinking is the dwindling amount of snow and rain. The West is in its 23rd year of drought.
 
 

Colorado river water shortage.The Looming Colorado Water Shortage Crisis

 

The agreement, known as the Colorado River Compact, was based on one critically important number: the total amount of water that the Colorado River can supply yearly.

Ignoring the best science of the time, officials claimed the river could provide about 20 million acre-feet per year an acre-foot is the amount of water needed to fill an acre with one foot of water , according to the book Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado Rive r. I spoke to co-author John Fleck about how officials in the past miscalculated so badly, and where we go now. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Are there parts of the river that are totally dry, where you could see, say, cracked earth? Yes, and this was a stunning revelation for me. The very bottom of the river, where it leaves the United States and enters Mexico, used to be this vast delta — wild and wet and full of beavers and marshes and estuaries.

Then you just have dry riverbed. The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages water in the US, has announced cuts related to the level of water in the reservoirs, known as Tier 1 and 2 shortages. How does that work? If it drops even more, the cutbacks will get bigger. Those cutbacks are now kicking in.

How did we get here? But you write about some historical oversights. What happened? He concluded in a report that the river is subject to big droughts on timescales of to to to years. The negotiators of the Colorado River Compact — the foundational document for figuring out how to divide up the river and decide who gets what — needed this information. They needed science. But they came together to figure this out without LaRue.

They sidelined him. Instead, the negotiators looked at a much more recent period [of time] that had been extraordinarily and unusually wet.

They just ignored the science because it was inconvenient. The promise of a lot of water made the political deal-making easier. Plenty for you. At a certain point, levels could drop so low that water can no longer be pumped from the reservoir. Eventually, some city and industrial water users will be affected. Water from three reservoirs in those states has been drained in recent years to maintain water levels at Lake Powell and protect the electric grid powered by the Glen Canyon Dam.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell — the two largest Colorado River reservoirs — are about a quarter full, threatening water supplies and the generation of hydroelectric power that provides electricity to millions of people.

Arizona, Nevada and California form the lower basin. From its headwaters in Colorado, the river and its tributaries eventually flow south of the border into Mexico, which also uses its water. Among those who depend on the water are nearly 30 federally recognized Native American tribes. The environmental aspects of dams and reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin have been largely ignored. Indeed, the Colorado River Compact is a clear example of this, which appropriates water for human use only.

But humans are not the only ones who use the water and rely on it for survival. Amidst a growing societal concern for the environment, federal and state governments will be facing pressure to consider solutions beyond traditional water management. Lake Powell, created by the Glen Canyon Dam, is also experiencing record low water levels. But Lake Powell is located upstream of Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam — meaning it receives a much larger percentage of the precipitation that subsequently feeds the entire Colorado River system.

Not surprisingly, more dams and diversions have been explored as potential long-term solutions. The Arizona State Legislature has even urged Congress to investigate the possibility of harvesting Mississippi River floodwaters to provide an additional source of water. Increased reporting of water wastes, following seasonal water restrictions, and replacing unused grass with water smart landscapes are among the most widely utilised conservation measures.

Indeed, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed Assembly Bill in , which required the replacement of unused grass landscapes, or those landscapes that are covered with turf grass for solely aesthetic purposes, by the end of This policy effort shows a commitment to work with the natural environment of the American Southwest to improve water savings, rather than implementing the same infrastructure that is the subject of these drought conditions in the first place.

Expanding municipal water conservation through this improved landscaping is indeed a great first step, but municipalities, industries, and agriculture alike will need to reevaluate their management practices to ensure continued water supply.

Water bankruptcy , in essence, promises too much water without enough supply. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. This summer, officials of the U. Interior Department gave seven states in the American West an ultimatum – either come up with a voluntary agreement to curtail their use of water from the Colorado River, or the federal government will impose mandatory restrictions.

Our guest, ProPublica investigative reporter Abrahm Lustgarten, says the water shortage facing the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado is an emergency but not a surprise. For decades, it’s been clear the states were draining more from the Colorado than it could bear. And population growth and climate change have accelerated the problem.

We’ve asked him to come back for an update on the crisis and a look at what lies ahead. Abrahm Lustgarten is an environmental reporter at ProPublica, with a focus on climate change. He’s the author of two books, and his series on the causes of water scarcity in the American West was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

You know, a lot of national disasters are really visible and dramatic – you know, wildfires and hurricanes. A water shortage is different, but things got really serious out west this summer.

Are there ways that it became more visible? Are there clear signs something was really wrong? I mean, if you live in the West or you visit the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado River system, which are Lake Powell and Lake Mead, it’s abundantly clear that they’re running out of water.

Lake Mead has this famous bathtub ring, which is a chalky mark left by the high water mark. And it’s now about feet above the water level. And so if you visit the Hoover Dam, which now towers far above the water that’s supposed to be, you know, abutting nearly the top of it, you see this enormous bathtub ring. And you just get this sense that the place has drained. And there’s been all sorts of stories of old towns uncovered, boats that had long ago sunk uncovered and even dead bodies, murders in the Las Vegas area, people who had been, you know, disposed of in the reservoir suddenly coming back above the waterline.

So it’s really apparent that this is an unusual situation. And there’s a sense of kind of urgency and, you know, a palpable sense of emergency when you visit those places. And water also goes to Mexico, too. What’s – how important is that water? It’s the most important source of water in the western United States. As you said, it, of course, is through seven states. It starts high in the Colorado Rockies and in Wyoming. And it courses all the way down to the Gulf of California between Baja and Mexico.

And on the way, it passes through seven states. It covers 1, miles. And the waters that run through the Colorado River are a primary source of water for 40 million Americans. They support the lion’s share of the Western agriculture, which includes a lot of vegetable production for the entire country.

They support cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles and Denver, among many others. And it is an irreplaceable source of water that has sustained Western development for more than years. How much – how big were those reductions? What was the scale of them? And acre feet is, you know, is the volume of water used to measure the Colorado.

But just to give a sense of scale, the river is running at about 9 to 10 million-acre feet now and even in its best days ran at about 12 to 13 million-acre feet. I guess it’s no great surprise that this voluntary agreement didn’t come together. So what’s happening now? Are meaningful steps being taken to address this?

So they’re trying to portray the potential for progress. But anybody who watches the river might be, you know, cynical about the potential for that progress. This is simply an incredibly difficult agreement for these seven states to reach. It was difficult for them to agree how to split the river at the various points historically when they’ve had to do that, going all the way back to the original River Compact in And it’s crucially difficult now.

The federal government has resisted. It’s delayed its deadlines. It has allowed extra time for this agreement to be reached. But in order to reach an agreement for how we share the Colorado River going forward, the states will probably need to abandon everything that they’ve held to in the past about how they use that water, about which industries are supported by it and how cities are grown by it. It’s really time to kind of go back to the drawing board. And part of what’s been challenging is the states have sought to negotiate new agreements while essentially not giving up, you know, the things dearest to them in the present.

It really sounds like a Gordian knot of policy. Well, let’s just talk a bit about how we got where we are and what some of the problems are with usage of the water there. I mean, we talked about this when you were on the show before.

And, you know, you explained that all the way going back to the original pact on splitting up the Colorado in , even then, they were splitting up more water than the river would actually generate. And it’s gotten worse over time as there’s been growth in agriculture, agriculture and cities, and climate change has exacerbated it.

One of the problems that you’ve described is the way water rights are honored that have been in place for decades. There’s kind of a seniority system which incentivizes, in some cases, farmers and others to waste water. You want to explain this? And ultimately, they’re governed by each state independently. But generally speaking, water rights are given to the first to arrive.

And so they are ranked on a seniority basis. And if you were a farmer that arrived in Colorado in the s, then you have higher seniority and access to greater water rights than, say, the city of Denver, which has grown, you know, in the latter part of the 20th century. And so that system across all of the states tends to give, you know, not just priority but really undue, you know, emphasis to the agricultural industry and to the ranches that, you know, cover that landscape.

Part of the water law that’s pervasive across the West and especially in the upper basin, which includes Colorado, is a stipulation that your water rights are protected so long as you use them. And if you don’t use them, then they could be jeopardized. They could be reapportion elsewhere as the need for conservation becomes more apparent.

And so what has ended up happening is that water rights holders, those senior rights holders, will use the maximum allotment of water just to protect their legal rights to that water in perpetuity, whether they need all of that water or not. And in extreme cases, this was resulting in landowners in ranches across the upper basin actually spilling water onto the ground, taking it out of the system and spilling it, because it would ultimately protect their long-term water rights.

 

Colorado river water shortage –

 
It was a big gap.

 
 

Colorado river water shortage.The Colorado River water shortage is forcing tough choices in 7 states

 
 

Dave Davies. Forty million people rely on the river. ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten says that water scarcity in the West hasn’t been recognized as the national emergency that it is. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. This summer, officials of the U. Interior Department gave seven states in the American West an ultimatum – either come up with a voluntary agreement to curtail their use of water from the Colorado River, or the federal government will impose mandatory restrictions.

Our guest, ProPublica investigative reporter Abrahm Lustgarten, says the water shortage facing the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado is an emergency but not a surprise. For decades, it’s been clear the states were draining more from the Colorado than it could bear.

And population growth and climate change have accelerated the problem. We’ve asked him to come back for an update on the crisis and a look at what lies ahead. Abrahm Lustgarten is an environmental reporter at ProPublica, with a focus on climate change. Colorado river water shortage the author of two books, and his series on the causes colorado river water shortage water scarcity in the American West was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

You know, a lot of national disasters are really visible and dramatic – you know, wildfires and hurricanes. A water shortage is different, but things got really serious out west this summer. Are there ways that it became more visible? Are there clear signs something was really wrong? I mean, if you live in the West or you visit the two largest reservoirs on the Colorado Colorado river water shortage system, which are Lake Powell and Lake Mead, it’s abundantly clear that they’re running out of water.

Lake Mead has this famous bathtub ring, which is a chalky mark left by the high water mark. And it’s now about feet above the water level. Посетить страницу so if you visit the Hoover Dam, which now towers far above the water that’s supposed to be, you colorado river water shortage, abutting nearly the top of it, you see this enormous bathtub ring.

And you just get this sense that the place has colorado river water shortage. And there’s been all sorts of stories of old towns uncovered, boats that had long ago sunk uncovered and even dead bodies, murders in the Las Vegas area, people who had been, you know, disposed of in the reservoir suddenly coming back above the waterline. So it’s really apparent that this is an unusual situation. And there’s a sense of kind of urgency and, you know, a palpable sense of emergency when как сообщается здесь visit those places.

And water also goes to Mexico, too. What’s – how colorado river water shortage is that water? It’s the most important source of water in the western United States. As you said, it, of course, is through seven states.

It starts high in the Colorado Rockies and in Wyoming. And it courses all the way down to the Gulf of California between Baja and Mexico. And on the way, it passes through seven states.

It covers 1, miles. And the waters that run through the Colorado River are a primary source of water for 40 million Americans. They support the lion’s share of the Western agriculture, which includes a lot of vegetable production colorado river water shortage the entire country. They support cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles and Denver, among many others.

And it is an irreplaceable source of water that has sustained Western development for more than years.

How much – how big were those reductions? What was the colorado river water shortage of them? And acre feet is, you know, is the volume of water used to measure the Colorado. But just to give a sense of scale, the river is running at colorado river water shortage 9 colorado river water shortage 10 million-acre feet now and even in its best days ran at about 12 to 13 million-acre feet.

I guess it’s no great surprise that this voluntary agreement didn’t come together. So what’s happening now? Are meaningful steps being taken to address this?

So they’re trying to portray the potential for progress. But anybody who watches the river might be, you know, cynical about the potential for that progress.

This is simply an incredibly difficult agreement for these seven states to reach. It was difficult for them to agree how to split the river at the various points historically when they’ve had to do that, going all the way back colorado river water shortage the original River Compact in And it’s crucially difficult now.

The federal government has resisted. It’s delayed its deadlines. It has allowed extra time for this agreement to be reached. But in order to reach an agreement for how we share the Colorado River going forward, the states will probably need to abandon everything that they’ve held to in the past about how they use that water, about which industries are supported by it and how cities are grown by it.

It’s really time to kind of go back to the drawing board. And part of what’s been challenging is the states have sought to negotiate new agreements while essentially not giving up, you know, the things dearest to them in the present.

It really sounds like a Gordian knot of policy. Well, let’s just talk a bit about читать больше we got where we are and what some of the problems are with usage of the water there.

I mean, we talked about this when you were on the show before. And, you know, you explained colorado river water shortage all the way going back to the original pact on splitting up the Colorado ineven then, they were splitting up more water than the river would actually generate.

And it’s gotten worse over time as there’s been growth in agriculture, agriculture and cities, and climate change has exacerbated colorado river water shortage. One of the problems that you’ve described is the way water rights are honored that have been in place for decades. There’s kind of a seniority system which colorado river water shortage, in some cases, farmers and others to waste water.

You want to explain this? And ultimately, they’re governed colorado river water shortage each state independently. But generally speaking, water rights are given to the first to arrive. And so they are ranked on a seniority basis.

And if you were a farmer colorado river water shortage arrived in Colorado in the s, then you have higher seniority colorado river water shortage access to greater water rights than, say, the city of Denver, which has grown, you know, in the latter part of the 20th century.

And so that system across all of the states tends to give, you know, not just priority but really undue, you know, emphasis to the agricultural industry and to the ranches that, you know, cover that landscape. Part of the water law that’s pervasive across the West and especially in colorado river water shortage upper basin, which includes Colorado, is a stipulation that your water rights are protected so long as you use them.

And if you don’t use them, then they could be jeopardized. They could be reapportion elsewhere as the need for conservation becomes more apparent. And so what has ended up happening is that water rights holders, those senior rights holders, will use the maximum allotment of water just to protect their legal rights to that water in perpetuity, whether they need all of that water or not. And in extreme cases, this was resulting in landowners in ranches across the upper basin actually spilling water onto the ground, taking it out of the system and spilling it, because it would ultimately protect their long-term water rights.

And so that use called, you know, sort of use it or lose it, which is pervasive across the basin, the amount of water that is wasted that way hasn’t exactly been quantified. But the recognition that that’s a pervasive problem, you know, is widespread, and it’s colorado river water shortage of the things that policymakers are hoping to address now as we look desperately for new ways to conserve water.

In some respects, the colorado river water shortage that are grown place a particularly high burden in ways that probably don’t make that much sense, right? Why don’t – explain this for us. I’m thinking mainly of alfalfa and then of grasses for grazing. Alfalfa is one of the most water-consuming crops you could possibly grow.

We grow it across Colorado. We grow it across Arizona and parts of California. And the main use for alfalfa is to feed cattle. And significant part of that feed for cattle isn’t even for American cattle, but it’s shipped overseas.

It’s exported to China, or it’s exported to the Middle East. And it’s an example of extraordinary, you know, water use читать статью goes to a very small segment, you know, of society and meets a – you know, a very small purpose. There was also the issue, last time we spoke, of cotton being grown in Arizona, which, at the time, didn’t – there wasn’t a great market for it.

It wasn’t a particularly lucrative crop. But there were farm subsidies from the federal government that made it almost mandatory to grow. And it uses a lot of water. That’s still happening? And the Farm Bill is essentially designed to support farmers. And – you know, and it distributes money, you know, colorado river water shortage on past practice for growing.

In the West, a lot of those subsidies are sent to farmers that have historically grown things that happen to be very water-inefficient – so farmers who grow alfalfa and, in the example you’re describing that I reported on, farmers who grow cotton in the Arizona desert. And so what’s happened as a mechanism of that Farm Bill is that as the pressure to use less water, you know, colorado river water shortage become more and more apparent and these farmers might have reconsidered what they grow, the Farm Bill steps in as – you know, as an incentive to continue growing the water-intensive crops, to keep that cotton growing.

Because the farmers that I talked to in central Colorado river water shortage, for example – when they considered switching crops, colorado river water shortage lose the historical production record, which entitles them to the subsidies. So it’s a long way of saying, you know, the net effect of many of the federal subsidies that we offer for the agricultural industry have the – you know, have the effect of maintaining the status quo at a very, you know, point читать полностью time when what’s desperately needed is to change the status quo and revisit, you know, the way – the crops that are grown and how much water those crops use.

DAVIES: You know, it’s interesting ’cause you’ve described your conversations with farmers and ranchers, many of whom understand that water is scarce and conservation is important. But, you know, they’re up against the hard economic realities colorado river water shortage the lives that they live. You know, I almost hesitate to ask why does the – why do colorado river water shortage farm subsidies exist that seems so irrational? But, you know, when you look back historically, the United States developed westward, you know, to – not only to distribute land to people, but to create a food economy, you know, to create ranch land that could supply, you know, meat back to the eastern United States and growing cities in – you know, in the early s, for example.