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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 Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer For decades, uranium mining has contaminated the Navajo Nation, causing higher cancer rates and water pollution. Even though the health risks and environmental harms of uranium mining are well-established, new operations continue to move forward. One local group, the Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM) hasn’t found a […]
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he would extend the drought emergency statewide and issued an executive order to have residents conserve water. As part of this effort, eight new counties were added to the state of emergency, and authorized the State Water Resources Control Board was authorized to […]
By Elizabeth Love, ODP Contributing Writer Authorities in the Canadian Arctic territory Nunavut, announced a state of emergency this week due to a possible contamination event affecting the City of Iqaluit’s water supply. Tests were performed after residents reported the smell of gasoline coming from their tap water, but they came back clean. However, […]
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