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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 Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Despite a century of knowledge on the dangers of lead poisoning, dozens of studies showing the impacts of lead on children’s development, and high-profile humanitarian disasters like the 2014 Flint Water Crisis, millions of Americans are still being exposed to lead in their drinking water. What’s worse: new studies […]
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Water experts say that worsening drought conditions across the nation may be here to stay. Extreme drought conditions in western states like Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico were once a semi-centennial occurrence, happening every 50 years. Now, these droughts are a common occurrence that disproportionately burdens low-income communities. […]
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