Click here to read the newsletter and to follow the links in the article. Here’s an excerpt:
Drought in the Southwest is a “hot” topic, and its effects wreak havoc on all aspects of life as we know it. The 20-year drought across the US West is taking a major toll on the Colorado River with extreme low flows and high temperatures. Lakes Powell and Mead are at historic lows. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation warned that Lake Mead is likely to fall to levels in June/July that could trigger the first federal water shortage declaration, with water use restrictions across the region.
We are seeing negative impacts on our fish life, agriculture/ranching water supply, urban water supply, forest, soil and river health, and environmental impacts in general. Trees in Western forests have been dying at an alarming rate over the past two decades due to droughts, high temperatures, pests and fires.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 93% of the U.S. West is in drought conditions, and nearly 59% of the area is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst conditions, indicating widespread risk of crop loss, fire and water shortages.
While I don’t mean to spout doom and gloom, we are witness to the impacts of climate change and it is a serious situation in the West. The impact that changing drought and fire regimes will have on forests in the future is still unclear.
As continuing greenhouse gas emissions warm the planet and drive moisture loss, increasing the frequency, duration and intensity of droughts, research shows the U.S. will likely witness more widespread forest fires, tree death and water scarcity.
In a new study conducted by researchers from The University of New Mexico, they have found that wildfires — which have been increasing in frequency, severity and extent around the globe — are one of the largest drivers of aquatic impairment in the western United States, threatening our water supply. The research, “Wildfires increasingly impact western U.S. fluvial networks,” was published recently in Nature Communications.
So, what can be done about it?
A variety of government agencies and community advisory groups (CAGS) are actively working on conservation policy and ways to help mitigate some of the water challenges ahead.
Even though the legislature had to cut 3.5 billion from the 2020 budget due to COVID, it was able to restore millions of dollars for a variety of education and infrastructure projects and small business. It also made for considerable amounts of funds to be dedicated to wildfire prevention and mitigation, water education, and Colorado’s Water Plan, including its statewide and basin grant programs.
A few of the water related bills included:
House Bill 1260, which transfers $15 million in state general funds to the Water Plan Implementation Cash Fund to be spent by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on grants to help meet the plan’s goals. HB 1260 moves $5 million into CWCB’s Water Supply Reserve Fund for the state’s basin roundtables. Senate Bill 240, also takes advantage of stimulus money and transfers $30 million in general fund revenue to the CWCB Construction Fund for grants to restore, mitigate and protect watersheds from wildfire-induced erosion and flooding. House Bill 1008, helps fund watershed protection efforts by authorizing local governments to band together and form special improvement districts empowered to levy property taxes for wildfire mitigation and forest health projects. Senate Bill 234 creates the Agriculture and Drought Resiliency Fund in the Colorado Department of Agriculture to help the state prepare for and respond to drought. It transfers $3 million in general fund revenue to the new fund to support agricultural water projects and recovery of grazing lands affected by wildfires
The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) is continuing to investigate the feasibility of a Demand Management program, which would involve temporary, voluntary and compensated reductions in consumptive use to bank water in Lake Powell as a hedge against future shortfalls on the Colorado River, as one option to ensure that Colorado and the three other upper basin states comply with Colorado River Compact delivery obligations.
Citizens can check out the Water Smart and Water Wise resources and programs, as well as the Water Information Program website. The public can participate in the local basin Roundtable meetings, join a Citizens Advisory Group, and participate in water conservation efforts. If you are not aware of the Colorado Water Plan you can check out the executive summary here. Water Education Colorado and the Statewide Water Education Action Plan (SWEAP) has a lot of great resources for Water Education’s role in achieving sustainable water for Colorado by 2050.