The Colorado River is 1,450 miles long, originating in the Rocky Mountains National Park. This river provides nearly forty million people with water and is a natural resource under crisis. Chronic overuse and the effects of climate change are pushing the river into drought.
The river is a critical resource in the West for Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. These states depend on the river for their water supply, fishing and wildlife, hydropower, and recreational activities.
According to a study published by Arizona State University, the Colorado River supports $1.4 trillion in annual economic activity and provides sixteen million jobs. The Colorado River is vital to the national economy.
The demand for rising food production, growing cities, and extreme weather combine to make the revival of the river challenging. Overusing the river has caused a domino effect on the primary water source for several states.
This crisis has been building for two decades. The river has been rapidly depleting due to climate change and the drought, impacting the amount of snowfall and precipitation in the area. The warmer temperatures are causing the snowcaps to melt earlier in the season and evaporate faster in the summer than before.
The seven states that rely on the river as their primary water source failed to meet the January 31st deadline to construct a plan to cut back on water use. After the negotiations for this plan went nowhere, six of the seven states submitted a proposal to the Bureau of Reclamation. They outlined ways their state could contribute to reducing their water usage.
This proposal was titled the "Consensus-Based Modeling Alternative" and was submitted by Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. California did not join in on the proposal and chose instead to submit a separate proposal.
This proposal was a critical step to protect the river but was not an official agreement between states. Plenty of work still needs to be done to preserve and revive the river as it rapidly declines.
The failure to reach a final agreement and meet the deadline is the second failure in six months. This failure to reach the deadline shows that the states must take the matter seriously. If the states fail to reach an agreement, the responsibility will fall into the federal government’s hands.
“We recognize that over the past twenty-plus years there is simply far less water flowing into the Colorado River system than the amount that leaves it, and that we have effectively run out of storage to deplete it,” stated in the "Consensus-Based Modeling Alternative" proposed by the states. “We will continue to work together and with the federal government.”
The states acknowledge in their proposal that they understand they are depleting one of their most significant resources. However, they cannot come together to make a plan giving each state equal benefits.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, the states need to adopt new plumbing codes, fix leaking water distribution systems, stop watering nonessential grass, and increase state and federal funding for urban agriculture to slow the dropping water levels.
A last resort is tapping into ancient wells and oceans, which could be a short-term solution and cause more issues. The states must tackle this issue, or the federal government must take control before it is too late. Until these issues are tackled and plans are implemented, the water levels will continue to drop, and more states will feel the effects.
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