Historic water cuts on Colorado River put strain on downstream farmers


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A 14-year drought, over-allocation, increasing demand and climate change are sucking the Colorado River dry. Photo from National Geographic

It’s no news that water is scarce in the arid west. But last week marked an unprecedented moment in the history of the Colorado River and the millions of people nationwide who rely on it for drinking water, meat and vegetables.

Based on historically low flows in the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation–a federal agency under the Department of Interior–decided to cut releases from Lake Powell into Lake Mead for the first time ever, beginning this October. That means that water releases to Arizona, Nevada and California will decrease from 8.23 million acre feet to 7.48maf over the next year. An acre-foot is enough to supply two households for one year.

Lakes Powell and Mead provide the main storage of Colorado River water that supplies 40 million people and nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland in the west. Arizona will be the first to feel the cuts. And while cities remain protected, at least for now, farmers will be cinching their belts as Arizona’s water authority CAP, or Central Arizona Project, may cut water deliveries to agriculture by 20%.

It’s even bad enough that the Southern Nevada Water Authority has called for federal disaster aid in anticipation of rapidly shrinking water supplies for Las Vegas.

NYFC - farmer pledge_CoRiver and westernwaterThe 14-year drought–some of the driest years in 1,200 years of tree-ring studies–is putting everyone in a bind, from water managers to farmers and policy makers. But we are not helpless. The Bureau of Reclamation itself identified water savings of 3 million acre-feet obtained through conservation alone. That’s why NYFC launched the Colorado River and Western Water Pledge, an opportunity for YOU–whether farmer or consumer–to show your support for conservation first. Click here to sign the pledge today!

Approaching this uncertain future will take varied and dynamic approaches, along with creativity and unprecedented collaboration. The best place to start is by each of us dedicating to be as good of stewards as we can be. Check out farmersforCORiver.com and ask your friends to sign the pledge today!

For more information on the water scarcity in the Colorado River and why it matters to farmers, check out National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal, and an ongoing blog by the Pima County Food Alliance on the impacts of the Colorado River in Arizona.

 

 

 

 

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