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Image: Philkon Phil Konstantin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer
For 40 million people living in the Western US, the Colorado River basin is their source of water supply and last month, the federal government declared a water shortage on the river for the first time. Within the basin, Thirty Native tribes have recognized rights to more than one-fifth of the entire supply, but some tribes are still trying to resolve their claims to water. Even among those whose rights have been recognized, “some face significant barriers to fully using their water, including a lack of necessary infrastructure, funding challenges, and limited legal options to put their water to use outside their reservations through leases or other arrangements,” Grist reports.
Why This Matters: Climate change-fueled heat and drought have made water rights issues increasingly important in the West. Last month’s water shortage declaration primarily impacted Arizona farmers, but as soon as 2023, some tribes could see cutbacks. Even without cuts, tribes already face challenges with essential water infrastructure. And declining flows, connected back to snowmelt in the Rockies, could push the basin into uncharted territory: the basin’s Drought Contingency Plan doesn’t map out what happens if the Lake Mead reservoir falls below 1,025 feet. And according to projections, there’s a 66% chance the reservoir will dip that low in the next five years.
We’ve created these systems where people pay money, and they get a service. But maybe what Mother Nature is saying to us is that, when it comes to something like water, we need to shift our approach so that people understand exactly where their water is coming from and understand their role in protecting the most precious resource we have.
Mapping the Colorado River
The basin’s water management is complex, but thanks to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, you can explore an interactive map of the Colorado River, which they’ve dubbed “the hardest working river in the West.” Commonly used regional maps aren’t always consistent with each other, and “ most haven’t kept up with changing realities — like the fact that the overtapped waterway no longer reaches its outlet at the sea,” the creators write in their introduction. The finished interactive map includes a complete list of tribes with federal water rights and whether they are fully litigated or in settlement.
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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