The seven states that rely on the Colorado River system have until mid-August to agree on a plan to reduce the usage of between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet of water before the federal government steps in to oversee the cuts instead. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton made the announcement last month during a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing, noting that “the challenges we are seeing today are unlike anything we have seen in our history.” That’s a major issue, climate outlet Grid reports, as mismanagement of the Colorado River’s upper and lower basins—and antiquated laws that those who rely on the river adhere to—have made it impossible to ignore unprecedented conditions, and much harder to respond to them.
The Colorado River being divided into two regions wasn’t necessarily an issue in the past; the region wasn’t suffering from a drought spanning decades, though upper basin states typically used far less water than their lower basin counterparts. And the Colorado River Compact, which is still in place today, was created about a century ago without the input of the dozens of tribal communities who would’ve been far better environmental stewards than those seeking to exploit the Colorado River in an effort to keep building communities that simply overburden the system.
Save The Colorado explicitly points to projects in the works “that would remove a new ~400,000 acre-feet of water out of the Colorado River, on average, every year,” the advocacy group notes in a letter sent to the Bureau of Reclamation. This comes at a time when the Colorado River frankly cannot afford to lose any additional water.
Projects like the Moffat Collection System Project and the Windy Gap Firming Project may further burden the Colorado River but their impact simply doesn’t compare to how much water is used by the agriculture sector. Around 78% of the system’s waters are diverted to farming and crops, which in turn helps feed the country and represents a significant economic sector, though the way those crops and livestock are grown can also pose a threat because of harmful chemicals used by businesses. More adaptive farming, dynamic laws, and collaboration are key tools to transform the agriculture sector in the face of drought and make it more adaptive—something even student researchers found nearly a decade ago as the current drought continued to rage.
Scrambling to prevent drastic water usage reductions on over-burdened communities sadly feels on par with the federal government’s handling of yet another climate crisis: extreme heat. On Tuesday, the government launched heat.gov, a site dedicated to educating communities and leaders on extreme heat in an effort to reduce risks from such dangerous conditions. The portal and President Biden’s executive order to deploy more efficient air condition systems and set up cooling stations come fairly late in the game given the fact that anyone focused on the climate crisis knew that extreme weather would only worsen. Now is not the time for bandaid solutions.
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