Click the link to read the article on the Sierra Club Magazine website (Jeremy Miller). Here’s an excerpt:
This summer in the southwestern United States has been defined by climate chaos. At one point, more than 75 million people were under an extreme heat advisories, and temperature records were broken in cities throughout the region. As the climate warms, these kinds of events will become more common, straining states’ ability to care for the most vulnerable. The warmer temperatures have also intensified the drought—the most severe dry spell in nearly 1,300 years—and strained the Colorado River, which supplies 40 million residents in the West with drinking water, to the breaking point. That’s why a group of western Democrat senators including Colorado’s Michael Bennet, Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto, and Arizona’s Mark Kelly secured $4 billion in funding as part of the Inflation Reduction Act to deal with persistent drought.
The funds will be directed to the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that operates and maintains hundreds of dams and reservoirs across the country, including Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Inflation Reduction Act stipulates that the $4 billion can be spent in one of three ways: to pay water users to reduce consumption; to fund conservation projects that reduce demand in the upper and lower basins of the Colorado River; and restorations of ecosystems and habitat directly harmed by drought. The bill also allocates $220 million to tribal nations (who collectively hold rights to 2.9 million acre-feet of Colorado River water) to fund climate resilience and adaptation programs.
In addition to funding for the Colorado River Basin, the Biden bill allocates another $8.3 billion “to address water and drought challenges and invest in our nation’s western water and power infrastructure, while rebuilding our existing projects to withstand a changing hydrology,” according to a Department of the Interior press release…
Robert Glennon, emeritus professor of law at the University of Arizona, says that there are solutions available that can save the Colorado River from ecological and hydrological collapse. While residential water scofflaws and “lawn cops” in Las Vegas and Los Angeles draw headlines, the biggest and most conspicuous user of the river water by far is agriculture, which accounts for roughly 80 percent of use. In Pinal County, near Phoenix, for example, water is delivered at great expense across the desert to irrigate tens of thousands of acres of water-intensive crops such as cotton and alfalfa (a large portion of the latter is shipped overseas to feed livestock). Efforts to update infrastructure such as improving canals and replacing antiquated flood irrigation systems with modern drip irrigation could reap potentially large savings, says Glennon. But these projects are also very expensive and, therefore, subsidies and grants will be necessary to aid in the transition. “Farmers tend to be land rich and cash poor, so the bureau could play a major role in helping farmers modernize their infrastructure,” Glennon said.