The Colorado River and its tributaries give life to America's southwest. This river system supplies drinking water to 36 million Americans, irrigates 15% of our nation's crops and facilitates recreation that supports a quarter million jobs.
But as another drought and an expanding population continue to strain the Colorado River, we are at a critical juncture in determining its future.
Increasing our water supply is, in general, an expensive and complicated proposition -- and the funding of large-scale water projects is more difficult now than ever before. It's important that policymakers not get distracted from real action on areas of broad agreement -- notably, a systemic approach to more efficiently using the water resources across the Colorado River System.
July 25 is the first Colorado River Day. Send a message to Sec. Ken Salazar, Comm. Michael Connor, and the governors of states surrounding the river to support conservation efforts and save the Colorado River!
On this first annual Colorado River Day, we find ourselves at a critical juncture in determining the future of the Colorado River. As another drought and an expanding population continue to strain this vital river, utilities and governments are faced with tough decisions on a path forward. These options are being considered within the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study and in meeting rooms in local communities, state capitals, and Washington, D.C. In a political environment that is ripe for division, we are happy to report that, as river conservationists and fiscal conservatives, we're all in the same boat: it's time to improve the efficiency with which we consume the Colorado River's water.
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The Colorado River and its tributaries give life to America's southwest. This river system supplies drinking water for 36 million Americans, irrigates 15% of our nation's crops, and facilitates recreation that supports a quarter million jobs and $26 billion in total economic output. However, over the last 12 years, we have lost 35% of the stored water available on the Colorado River through consumption and drought. As demand on the river's water now exceeds its supply, this trend is on track to continue. Bringing this equation into balance is certainly an urgent need, but can still be tackled through pragmatic means.
The most expedient, cost-effective way to address the imbalance is to become more efficient in our use of water. We can use more water efficient products, eliminate water waste through audits and infrastructure repair, incorporate landscape design that fits our water scarce environment, and educate the public about smart water use practices. We can help our farmers and ranchers become more efficient in their water use through deploying more efficient irrigation practices and technology upgrades on an opt-in basis. We can also harness market forces through voluntary participation in water banks, which can effectively move water to where it is needed. If we prioritize these measures, we can drastically reduce our water demand and provide the best value proposition for taxpayers and water rate payers in addressing the Colorado River system's imbalance.
While smart options to improve supply and storage should be considered by policymakers, increasing our water supply is, in general, a more expensive and complicated proposition, involving a range of often conflicting values (upper basin vs. lower basin, urban vs. rural, environmental vs. development, etc.) Moreover, strained state and federal budgets, combined with increasing water rates confronting millions of Westerners, only serve to make the funding of large-scale water projects more difficult now than ever before. As these discussions continue to take place across the water-hungry West, it is important that policymakers not allow them to distract from real action on areas of broad agreement -- notably, a systemic approach to more efficiently using the water resources across the Colorado River System.
The Colorado River has always been at the core of our character out West. It supports our way of life. In addressing its sustainability, we should apply the self-reliance and pioneering spirit that makes the people of our region distinctive. Let's take responsibility for what we can do better as consumers of the Colorado River's water to make sure this river system brings life to our corner of the world for generations to come.