Opinion: How not to kill the #ColoradoRiver — Steve Goetting/Margaret Bowman

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Arizona Central (Steve Goetting/Margaret Bowman):

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gave a speech Dec. 13 to the major water users in the Colorado River Basin, calling on them to take immediate action to address the region’s water supply challenges.

The challenges in the Colorado River basin are large, but the good news is that cost effective solutions are available and already being tested in different parts of the basin. Implementing these solutions now will be good not only for the region’s iconic Colorado River, but also for the region’s economy…

We can reverse the river’s fate and address the water supply challenge – and do it in a way that benefits the region’s economy. By combining municipal and agricultural conservation, water recycling and other techniques to share water supplies flexibly, the region can provide enough water to meet future demands.

This is not an untested set of solutions. Communities in Arizona and across the basin are already using promising practices that can serve as a model for others across the region.

For instance, farmers on the Diamond S Ditch in Camp Verde partnered with The Nature Conservancy to automate the structure that diverts water from the river to farm fields. Farmers now can divert only the water they need, while the extra water can benefit the river – and the farmers can do all of this using their smartphones rather than driving out to the river.

And last year, Sierra Vista became the first city in the country to require certified water-efficient appliances in new homes. They are also dedicating recycled water for groundwater recharge near the San Pedro River, reducing the impact of the city’s groundwater use on the river.

A more efficient water future will not only create a more secure water supply, but will also provide a boost to the economy. Farmers can increase productivity and use less water by upgrading aging irrigation systems. And they can reap financial rewards from voluntarily sharing some of their saved water with cities and rivers.

These innovative approaches can allow cities across the basin to secure future water supplies in a cost-effective fashion without resorting to costly diversion projects.

Solving water shortages without draining rivers will preserve the Colorado River Basin’s $26 billion recreation economy that draws tourists from across the globe for fishing, hiking, rafting, camping and other activities. Arizona generates $6 billion alone, which provides nearly 54,000 jobs in the state.

To capitalize on those benefits, the region’s leaders need to take bold action to immediately implement the common-sense water conservation solutions that can put the river and the region on a path to recovery. As secretary Jewell said, “We have to do more, we have to do it more quickly, to take on the challenges that are going to be harder that what we’ve tackled before.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

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