Ancient groundwater: Why the water you’re drinking may be thousands of years old — The Conversation


Some of North America’s groundwater is so old, it fell as rain before humans arrived here thousands of years ago.
Maria Fuchs via Getty Images

Marissa Grunes, Harvard University; Alan Seltzer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Kevin M. Befus, University of Arkansas

Communities that rely on the Colorado River are facing a water crisis. Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, has fallen to levels not seen since it was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam roughly a century ago. Arizona and Nevada are facing their first-ever mandated water cuts, while water is being released from other reservoirs to keep the Colorado River’s hydropower plants running.

If even the mighty Colorado and its reservoirs are not immune to the heat and drought worsened by climate change, where will the West get its water?

There’s one hidden answer: underground.

As rising temperatures and drought dry up rivers and melt mountain glaciers, people are increasingly dependent on the water under their feet. Groundwater resources currently supply drinking water to nearly half the world’s population and roughly 40% of water used for irrigation globally.

What many people don’t realize is how old – and how vulnerable – much of that water is.

Most water stored underground has been there for decades, and much of it has sat for hundreds, thousands or even millions of years. Older groundwater tends to reside deep underground, where it is less easily affected by surface conditions such as drought and pollution.

As shallower wells dry out under the pressure of urban development, population growth and climate change, old groundwater is becoming increasingly important.

Drinking ancient groundwater

If you bit into a piece of bread that was 1,000 years old, you’d probably notice.

Water that has been underground for a thousand years can taste different, too. It leaches natural chemicals from the surrounding rock, changing its mineral content. Some natural contaminants linked to groundwater agelike mood-boosting lithium – can have positive effects. Other contaminants, like iron and manganese, can be troublesome.

Older groundwater is also sometimes too salty to drink without expensive treatment. This problem can be worse near the coasts: Overpumping creates space that can draw seawater into aquifers and contaminate drinking supplies.

Illustration of layers of groundwater below the surface
Flow timescales of groundwater through different layers.
USGS

Ancient groundwater can take thousands of years to replenish naturally. And, as California saw during its 2011-2017 drought, natural underground storage spaces compress as they empty, so they can’t refill to their previous capacity. This compaction in turn causes the land above to crack, buckle and sink.

Yet people today are drilling deeper wells in the West as droughts deplete surface water and farms rely more heavily on groundwater.

What does it mean for water to be ‘old’?

Let’s imagine a rainstorm over central California 15,000 years ago. As the storm rolls over what’s now San Francisco, most of the rain falls into the Pacific Ocean, where it will eventually evaporate back into the atmosphere. However, some rain also falls into rivers and lakes and over dry land. As that rain seeps through layers of soil, it enters slowly trickling “flowpaths” of underground water.

Some of these paths lead deeper and deeper, where water collects in crevices within the bedrock hundreds of meters underground. The water gathered in these underground reserves is in a sense cut off from the active water cycle – at least on timescales relevant to human life.

In California’s arid Central Valley, much of the accessible ancient water has been pumped out of the earth, mostly for agriculture. Where the natural replenishment timescale would be on the order of millennia, agricultural seepage has partially refilled some aquifers with newer – too often polluted – water. In fact, places like Fresno now actively refill aquifers with clean water (such as treated wastewater or stormwater) in a process known as “managed aquifer recharge.”

Map showing longest turnover times are in the West and Great Plains
Average turnover times for groundwater in the U.S.
Alan Seltzer, based on data from Befus et al 2017, CC BY-ND

In 2014, midway through their worst drought in modern memory, California became the last western state to pass a law requiring local groundwater sustainability plans. Groundwater may be resilient to heat waves and climate change, but if you use it all, you’re in trouble.

One response to water demand? Drill deeper. Yet that answer isn’t sustainable.

First, it’s expensive: Large agricultural companies and lithium mining firms tend to be the sort of investors who can afford to drill deep enough, while small rural communities can’t.

Second, once you pump ancient groundwater, aquifers need time to refill. Flowpaths may be disrupted, choking off a natural water supply to springs, wetlands and rivers. Meanwhile, the change in pressure underground can destabilize the earth, causing land to sink and even leading to earthquakes.

Chart showing how nitrates enter water as more groundwater is pumped out
Pumping accelerates groundwater flow to a well, delivering dissolved chemicals.
USGS

Third is contamination: While deep, mineral-rich ancient groundwater is often cleaner and safer to drink than younger, shallower groundwater, overpumping can change that. As water-strapped regions rely more heavily on deep groundwater, overpumping lowers the water table and draws down polluted modern water that can mix with the older water. This mixing causes the water quality to deteriorate, leading to demand for ever-deeper wells.

Reading climate history in ancient groundwater

There are other reasons to care about ancient groundwater. Like actual fossils, extremely old “fossil groundwater” can teach us about the past.

Envision our prehistoric rainstorm again: 15,000 years ago, the climate was quite different from today. Chemicals that dissolved in ancient groundwater are detectable today, opening windows into a past world. Certain dissolved chemicals act as clocks, telling scientists the groundwater’s age. For example, we know how fast dissolved carbon-14 and krypton-18 decay, so we can measure them to calculate when the water last interacted with air.

Younger groundwater that disappeared underground after the 1950s has a unique, man-made chemical signature: high levels of tritium from atomic bomb testing.

Illustration of water flowing among rocks, close up and at a distance.
The various components and properties of an unconfined aquifer.
USGS

Other dissolved chemicals behave like tiny thermometers. Noble gases like argon and xenon, for instance, dissolve more in cold water than in warm water, along a precisely known temperature curve. Once groundwater is isolated from air, dissolved noble gases don’t do much. As a result, they preserve information about environmental conditions at the time the water first seeped into the subsurface.

The concentrations of noble gases in fossil groundwater have provided some of our most reliable estimates of temperature on land during the last ice age. Such findings provide insight into modern climates, including how sensitive Earth’s average temperature is to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These methods support a recent study that found 3.4 degrees Celsius of warming with each doubling of carbon dioxide.

Groundwater’s past and future

People in some regions, like New England, have been drinking ancient groundwater for years with little danger of exhausting usable supplies. Regular rainfall and varied water sources – including surface water in lakes, rivers and snowpack – provide alternatives to groundwater and also refill aquifers with new water. If aquifers can keep up with the demand, the water can be used sustainably.

Out West, though, over a century of unmanaged and exorbitant water use means that some of the places most dependent on groundwater – arid regions vulnerable to drought – have squandered the ancient water resources that once existed underground.

Cross section of California showing rivers, groundwater and wells, including recharge wells
How water use and recharge fit into the hydrological cycle.
State of California

A famous precedent for this problem is in the Great Plains. There, the ancient water of the Ogallala Aquifer supplies drinking water and irrigation for millions of people and farms from South Dakota to Texas. If people were to pump this aquifer dry, it would take thousands of years to refill naturally. It is a vital buffer against drought, yet irrigation and water-intensive farming are lowering its water levels at unsustainable rates.

As the planet warms, ancient groundwater is becoming increasingly important – whether flowing from your kitchen tap, irrigating food crops, or offering warnings about Earth’s past that can help us prepare for an uncertain future.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The Conversation

Marissa Grunes, Environmental Fellow, Harvard University; Alan Seltzer, Assistant Scientist in Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Kevin M. Befus, Assistant Professor of Hydrogeology, University of Arkansas

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

@DenverWater a two-time winner of national #sustainability award: Peer utilities across the United States highlight utility’s work to protect ecosystems, communities and #climate

From Denver Water (Cathy Proctor):

The importance of protecting water, the communities that rely on it and the ecosystems that supply it, is embedded in Denver Water’s mission.

And the utility’s efforts toward sustainability were recognized in early October by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, a group representing the largest publicly owned drinking water suppliers in the United States.

At the association’s annual meeting, held in Denver this year, Denver Water received the group’s 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award. It was the second time Denver Water’s efforts were recognized. The utility also won the award in 2018.

Denver Water was among four utilities recognized by their peer utilities for innovative and successful efforts in economic, social and environmental endeavors.

Denver Water was honored with the 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award by the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies for its multiple efforts around an ethic of sustainability. It’s the second time Denver Water has won this national award. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“AMWA’s 2021 award winners are innovative water systems helmed by visionary executives and committed workforces who create sustainable utilities. In addition to delivering affordable and high-quality water and top-notch customer service, the systems provide exceptional environmental protection and resource management,” said AMWA President Angela Licata, who also is the deputy commissioner for sustainability in the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

Solar power panels being installed during the construction of Denver Water’s new Administration Building, part of the utility’s sustainability efforts. Photo credit: Denver Water.

“We are always making improvements to how we operate because working in a sustainable manner ensures we will continue to deliver clean, safe water to the 1.5 million people who rely on us every day,” said Kate Taft, Denver Water’s manager of sustainability.

“We are honored that our efforts were recognized by AMWA, as so many of our peers across the nation share our focus on sustainability.”

AMWA recognized Denver Water for its efforts to improve operations and protect its surrounding ecosystem and communities. Among that work, AMWA noted that Denver Water has set formal goals to reduce carbon emissions, maintain a net-energy neutral operations, expand the use of renewable energy in its day-to-day work, and improve green infrastructure.

The group also highlighted Denver Water’s work through the Lead Reduction Program to protect customers from the risk of lead from customer-owned pipes and plumbing getting into their drinking water. The program, launched in 2020, will replace the estimated 64,000 to 84,000 customer-owned lead service lines over the course of 15 years.

Denver Water CEO/Manager Jim Lochhead accepts the 2021 AMWA Sustainable Water Utility Management Award from AMWA President Angela Licata and AMWA Vice President John Entsminger, at the group’s annual meeting in early October in Denver. Photo credit: Denver Water.

The group also focused on another aspect of Denver Water’s award-winning efforts, its From Forests to Faucets partnership with other government agencies to support work that reduces the risk of damage in the watershed from wildfires, including the planting of more than 1 million new trees.

Along with Denver Water, the group honored three other utilities for their management efforts:

  • Knoxville Utilities Board also was named for its sustainable management efforts.
  • Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust received the 2021 AMWA Platinum Award for Utility Excellent.
  • Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority received the 2021 Gold Award for Exceptional Utility Performance.
  • Denver Water’s sustainability efforts include:

  • LEED certification for the buildings involved in the overhaul of Denver Water’s Operations Campus, a 34.6-acre complex on West 12th Avenue near downtown that has been the site of different Denver Water operations since 1881.
  • Creating a sustainability guide that outlined goals for Denver Water from 2018 through 2020, and updating that guide to set down new goals to guide the organization from 2021 through 2025.
  • Starting a waste diversion program that, since its beginning in 2018, has diverted nearly 94,000 pounds of waste from the landfill by composting. That’s nearly 47 tons.
  • Supporting efforts, such as Resource Central’s Garden In A Box program, that have helped Denver-area customers plant more than 100,000 square feet of low-water gardens — instead of turf — to save water and create beauty around their homes.
  • Last month was the hottest September on record for San Juan Mountains, San Luis Valley — #Colorado Public Radio

    September 2021 Gridded Temperature Percentiles Map

    From Colorado Public Radio (Miguel Otárola):

    The San Juan Mountains and parts of Larimer County also had their hottest September on record, the data shows. Statewide, it was the third-warmest September in Colorado’s history, tying with September 1998…

    It was also a drier month than usual for the Front Range and much of southern Colorado, according to state climatologists. After a wet spring and summer — the result of timely monsoon rains — moderate to severe drought conditions have started to return to eastern parts of the state. A swath of northwest Colorado remains under exceptional drought.

    State officials anticipate fall will be warmer and drier than normal, stressing vegetation and soil that is already parched across the state, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

    San Luis Valley residents are currently fighting about how much water is available to them, McCracken said. Farmers growing potatoes, barley and alfalfa are pumping much of that water from wells, he said, all while the area’s snowpack is melting earlier than normal and evaporating before it can recharge local water sources.

    The #ColoradoRiver is drying up. Here’s how that affects Indigenous #water rights: “The basin is free-riding off of undeveloped tribal water rights” — Grist #COriver #aridification

    Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

    From Grist (Mark Armao):

    The Colorado River Basin encompasses seven U.S. states and supplies water to 40 million people. Over the past two decades, the basin has experienced record-setting heat and some of the driest years ever recorded, which have combined to sap the river of water at unprecedented rates. The largest reservoirs on the river have dropped to alarmingly low levels in recent months, forcing Western water managers to rethink how they operate in the face of scarcity.

    Last month, federal officials sounded the alarm by declaring the first-ever water shortage in the basin. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cited “historic drought,” climate change, and low levels of runoff from the Rocky Mountains as reasons for the continued decline of Lake Mead…

    Lake Mead low elevation. Photo credit: Department of Interior via ensia

    With every foot that Lake Mead falls, the basin comes closer to triggering substantial cutbacks for certain water users along the river. The first round of reductions, which will take effect next year, will primarily impact farmers in central Arizona. But if lake levels continue to decline, future cutbacks could impact the 30 Native American tribes with lands in the basin…

    Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Indigenous nations have recognized rights to more than one-fifth of the basin’s annual supply — more than a trillion gallons, or nearly enough to cover an area the size of Connecticut in a foot of water. That allocation is likely to increase in the future, because 12 of the tribes in the Colorado River Basin are still engaged in the decades-long process of resolving their water rights claims, according to the Water & Tribes Initiative, a coalition of tribal representatives, water rights attorneys and academics.

    Tribal water rights differ from state-based rights in several ways. Unlike a state or irrigation district, a tribe’s right to water dates back at least as early as the creation of its reservation. Despite having federally reserved water rights, tribal claims were largely ignored until the 1960s, when the U.S. Supreme Court adopted standards allowing tribes to have their rights quantified, a form of legal recognition that identifies the amount of water to which users hold rights.

    But even for tribes that have resolved their rights, some face significant barriers to fully using their water, including a lack of necessary infrastructure, funding challenges, and limited legal options to put their water to use outside their reservations through leases or other arrangements.

    If a tribe does not (or cannot) use all the water it is entitled to, it doesn’t go unused; thirsty cities and agricultural fields downstream from reservations siphon off the surplus, but with no compensation for the tribe…

    Tribes with substantial diversion rights may remain unscathed by the initial reductions, with some even in the position to contribute water back into the system. But other tribes are less fortunate; in addition to unrecognized water rights, deteriorating infrastructure, and water insecurity issues, some tribes could face cutbacks to their water supply as early as 2023.

    Whether a tribe is flush with mainstream flows or struggling to access clean drinking water, every tribe in the basin must navigate the complicated legal landscape that governs water rights on the Colorado.

    Much of the water that flows through the Colorado River starts as snowpack in the southern Rockies. The snowmelt produced in spring then flows into tributaries in states like Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. These states are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin: The lands fed by waters of the Colorado River system were divided into an upper basin and a lower basin during the negotiations for the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The so-called “law of the river” is an amalgamation of interstate compacts, statutes, regulations, court decisions, an international treaty, and the seminal 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decree in Arizona v. California, which enabled several tribes to quantify their rights.

    In Utah, one of those tributaries — the Green River — flows through the lands of the Ute Indian Tribe, which had a portion of its water rights quantified in the 1920s but is still litigating unresolved claims. Because the Ute tribe has not fully resolved nor developed those rights, much of the tribe’s water goes unused and flows toward Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir on the Colorado River.

    Lake Powell Pipeline map via the Washington County Water Conservancy District, October 25, 2020.

    Despite the declining water levels at the lake, the state of Utah is forging ahead with a proposed $2 billion pipeline that would pump water from Lake Powell to largely non-Native communities near St. George — 140 miles away, in southwestern Utah. Critics blasted the proposal, citing the state’s failure to recognize the tribe’s water entitlements, its refusal to conduct meaningful tribal consultation and, more generally, its antiquated approach to water development in the Western U.S.

    The Ute Indian Tribe has a pending lawsuit challenging the project, arguing that the pipeline would obstruct the tribe’s efforts to fully develop its water rights. (The Ute Indian Tribe declined a request to be interviewed for this article, citing the ongoing litigation.)

    […]

    Battling for water rights is more than just a struggle for adequate water resources; it’s a fight for better health.

    Tribes with unresolved water rights must undertake a convoluted settlement process to have their share of the river quantified. And while every tribe is legally entitled to enough water to satisfy their on-reservation needs, having unquantified rights poses additional challenges for those tribes, according to Bidtah Becker, an associate attorney with the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

    The Navajo Nation has extensive water rights in both the upper and lower basins, but the tribe’s claims in the state of Arizona remain unquantified. Proposed settlements negotiated by the tribe a decade ago never materialized. In the coming years, court proceedings are scheduled to resolve the water rights of the Navajo, as well as the neighboring Hopi Tribe.
    Becker said tribes without recognized water rights often face challenges in securing funding for water infrastructure projects, especially in areas where substantial water pipelines and other facilities would be required. The lack of adequate water infrastructure has long plagued the Navajo Nation, where residents are 67 times more likely than other Americans to live without access to running water…

    Installing pipe along the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Photo credit: USBR

    As tribes with unresolved rights fight to settle their claims, the basin-wide shortage is forcing all stakeholders on the river to find ways to conserve water. That scarcity is likely to make striking a deal even more challenging than it has been in the past…

    [Pam] Adams is one of the chief liaisons between the tribes and Reclamation, an agency under the Department of the Interior. Acknowledging the persistent challenges faced by tribes seeking settlements in the past, Adams said resolving all outstanding tribal claims is a priority among the department’s leaders, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is a member of the Laguna Pueblo. Clarifying the rights of each tribe also gives greater certainty to other stakeholders in the basin, Adams said, adding, “It’s best for everyone to get them settled and this administration is certainly very supportive of that.”

    The Bureau of Reclamation is currently building a 300-mile-long pipeline that will supply water from the San Juan River to portions of the Navajo Nation and Jicarilla Apache Nation. Becker said projects like the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project are significant steps, but that more needs to be done to address the lack of water security in Native American communities…

    Screen shot from episode of “Tom Talks” April 2020.

    Members of the Gila River Indian Community, or GRIC, irrigate thousands of acres south of Phoenix. With a population of more than 13,000 living on the reservation, the tribe traces its roots to ancient cultures that built expansive networks of irrigation canals to support large villages along the waterway. These days, the farmlands are fed by a new stream. The Central Arizona Project, or CAP, completed in the 1990s, is a 330-mile-long canal that conveys Colorado River water from Lake Havasu, on the California border, to central and southern Arizona…

    Because the CAP has some of the lowest-priority rights on the river, the canal is subject to the first round of reductions next year. The basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan established a three-tiered system for imposing reductions in the lower basin based on the level of Lake Mead. Under a Tier 1 shortage (which is triggered when the elevation of Lake Mead falls below 1,075 feet), CAP water supplies will be cut by 30 percent — reductions that will primarily impact farmers in places like Pinal County.

    The five tribes that draw from the CAP have some of the highest-priority rights on the canal, which largely buffers them from the initial round of cutbacks. If Lake Mead were to fall below 1,025 feet in elevation, the lower basin would enter a Tier 3 shortage, at which point Arizona’s diversion rights would be reduced by roughly 45 percent compared to the canal’s current supply…

    Even if continued declines were to trigger a Tier 3 shortage — the direst scenario envisioned in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan — water deliveries to the Gila River Indian Community would be largely the same, according to Jason Hauter, a tribal member who represents the GRIC as an attorney…

    But a Tier 3 shortage is far from the worst-case scenario, because declining streamflows could push the level of Lake Mead below the 1,025-foot mark — a situation left unaddressed by the Drought Contingency Plan. While the chances of Lake Mead reaching critically low levels seemed remote when planning efforts began, projections released by Reclamation last month indicate there is a 66 percent chance the reservoir falls below 1,025 feet by 2025.

    Falling below that level would trigger additional cutbacks, which would likely include curtailing tribal water deliveries from the CAP. And, because tribes on the CAP are allowed to lease their water rights directly to municipalities, future reductions to tribal water could also impact the water-supply holdings of cities and towns throughout central Arizona.

    If Lake Mead were to fall below 900 feet, it would elicit the disaster scenario known as “dead pool,” in which water would no longer flow through Hoover Dam, cutting off the lower basin and shutting down a hydroelectric plant that provides electricity for millions of people in the Southwest.

    Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community, said via email that the tribe is committed to working with other stakeholders in the basin to avoid that fate.

    But, as hydrological conditions in the basin continue to worsen, deeper cuts seem inevitable…

    Wheat fields along the Colorado River at the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation. Wheat, alfalfa and melons are among the most important crops here. By Maunus at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47854613

    For thousands of years before the first concrete dams were built on the Colorado, the Mojave people — or AhaMacav, which means “people of the river” — maintained large settlements on either side of the surging stream. In 1865, the U.S. government lumped members of the Mojave and Chemehuevi tribes together to form the Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, which later came to include Navajo and Hopi families.

    The CRIT’s water rights were quantified as part of Arizona v. California, the series of U.S. Supreme Court cases beginning in the 1930s that dealt with water disputes between the two states. Along with confirming the rights of the five mainstream tribes in the lower basin, the case also established the standard of determining tribal entitlements based on a tribe’s “practicably irrigable acreage.”

    The tribe’s history of agriculture, including an 80,000-acre irrigation project built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, enabled the CRIT to secure annual diversion rights of more than 700,000 acre-feet, the largest entitlement of any tribe in the basin. Although the CRIT uses a large portion of its water for farming and agriculture, much of its entitlements in both Arizona and California go unused — a fortunate fact for farmers in central Arizona.

    The tribe has employed a number of creative approaches to generate revenue using its reserved water rights, including discontinuing certain existing water uses on tribal land, and using the water that is conserved to prop up levels in Lake Mead.

    The tribe has agreed to fallow a portion of its historically irrigated farmland over the next three years, conserving a total of 150,000 acre-feet of water that will be left in Lake Mead. For its help in minimizing cutbacks for lower-priority users — such as agriculture served by the CAP — the tribe is receiving $38 million, mostly from the state of Arizona.

    Margaret Vick, an attorney for the CRIT, said that although the tribe is well-positioned to contribute conservation water, its ability to benefit from other types of off-reservation uses are limited. Unlike tribes with water settlements, she said, the CRIT’s decreed water rights generally prohibit the tribe from directly leasing its water to off-reservation users. The tribe proposed federal legislation last year that would allow it to market some of its Arizona allocation, but the bill hasn’t been introduced in Congress, Vick said.

    From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR

    Although the CRIT’s water rights are quantified and it has enough water to contribute to Mead, the tribe has historically suffered from a lack of funding for necessary infrastructure — something that is often negotiated as part of a water settlement, Vick said. According to the Tribal Water Study, parts of the federal irrigation project were built in the late 1800s, and suffer from “design limitations and simple aging problems,” such as unlined canals and deteriorating gates.

    Weiner, the attorney for the Quechan tribe, said that while each tribe is in a different situation, they generally agree on the need for more flexibility in the legal framework that governs the river…

    Despite the challenges facing tribes in the basin, tribal leaders and water managers see opportunities for solutions that would help alleviate some of the water-supply pressures on non-Native stakeholders while enabling the tribes to benefit from their water. And, regardless of the water management decisions that are made going forward, the tribes want a seat at the table.

    Tribal leaders often lament the lack of tribal consultation that occurs when federal or state governments make decisions that impact tribal resources. Secretary Haaland has emphasized the importance of tribal engagement during her time leading the Interior Department, but the level of tribal involvement in the basin’s next round of drought planning remains to be seen.

    Noting the importance of cooperation between basin stakeholders, Becker, the attorney for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, said the ongoing shortage should also serve as a reminder that water is not simply a commodity, but a vital substance on which our survival depends.