Please invest in Our Daily Planet today, by making a one time or monthly contribution.
We do not charge our readers a subscription fee for our content. We want to continue to grow our readership, particularly among millennials and public servants. Voluntary contributions from readers will help us employ interns and freelance journalists, expand our content, and reach a larger audience.
Hoover Dam, Colorado River Photo: Ubergirl, Wiki CC
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer
For twenty years, conditions across the Colorado River Basin have worsened as temperatures rose due to climate change. In 2020, unrelenting heat and super dry conditions left the soil extremely parched, rivers and streams running low, and reservoirs in the region well below capacity.High elevation forests in Colorado — trees that no one ever thought would be a fire risk — were bone dry and burned intensely. The Southwest experiencing its worst drought in 1,500 years, raising important questions about how to manage the Colorado River’s water. The River sustains farms and cities in seven Western states.
Why this Matters: Research suggests that the river could lose 1/4 of its flow by 2050 as the climate continues to heat up. Over the past year, the river’s reservoirs have been left at 46% their full capacity, even lower than 52% a year ago. In order to avert catastrophic drought conditions, the west must find a new way to manage its water, and fast. “Climate change is drying out the headwaters,” one water manager said. “And everybody in the Colorado River Basin needs to be concerned.”
“Demand Management” Plans
There are a few ideas in play about how best to cope with increasingly severe drought conditions. Some states have explored adopting “demand management” plans, which would pay some farmers to voluntarily and temporarily use less water. Representatives of Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico started to pilot a program like this in 2019, when they signed a set of agreements called the Drought Contingency Plan. That said, some have issues with this kind of program, as it enables cities to avoid water cuts, and disrupts farmers’ livelihoods and careers.
Water rights have long been bought and sold in the West as a way to manage uses. But now, private investors from the East Coast have started to buy water rights, attempting to make the water industry more like Wall Street, implementing futures markets and instant trading, according to The New York Times. Big investors owning water rights (as opposed to locals) could increase the price of water precipitously for cities that are hoping to accumulate rights in anticipation of future demand. Some investors suggest that making the market more sophisticated will force consumers to use less water due to the price surges. However, this plan may have huge drawbacks. Traders could exploit volatility, whether due to drought, failing infrastructure or government restrictions, or produce artificial shorts. Transferring water from agricultural communities to cities, although often contentious, is not a new practice.
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor In another significant blow to the Pebble Mine project in Alaska, the EPA has asked a federal court to allow Clean Water Act protections for parts of Bristol Bay, a body of water that stands to be decimated if the project continues. Environmental advocates and Alaska Native tribes hope […]
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer California’s record-breaking drought is not just a result of climate change — it’s also making climate change worse. According to a new study, population growth and energy-sapping water projects have driven up emissions and slowed down decarbonization campaigns. As it gets more and more difficult for Californians to rely […]
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor A federal judge has thrown out a Trump administration environmental rollback that scaled back federal protections for the nation’s streams, marshes, and wetlands. Despite support from farm and business groups, the federal judge ruled that the rollback could lead to “serious environmental harm.” Environmental groups are celebrating the decision, which will reinstate protections for […]
Our Daily Planet is your daily dose of the stories shaping our world and the ways that you can take action. From the climate crisis to the protection of biodiversity, if these issues matter to you then please subscribe & stay informed!
Your privacy is Important! We promise never to use your email address to send you spam or advertisements.