With western water reserves at historic lows, farmers in Arizona and other western states are facing mandatory water restrictions. And more cuts are coming: the federal government has tasked the seven Colorado River Basin states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) and tribal leaders with reducing usage of Colorado River water by two to four million acre-feet. To put that in perspective, 7.5 million acre-feet is the total allocation to all river users in the U.S, meaning water usage could be cut by up to half.
On June 14th, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing to discuss this water crisis in the Southwest. In a letter Young Farmers sent to the Committee regarding the hearing, we uplift how critical farm bill programs are to combatting the Western water crisis and climate change. By enhancing and expanding farm bill programs, USDA can better resource producers and support a new generation of young and BIPOC farmers to implement conservation on their farms and ranches.
Worsening drought conditions and aridification are threatening communities that rely on water to support their families and livelihoods. More than 75 percent of the Western region is experiencing severe drought. For centuries, the Colorado River Basin has been the lifeblood of the Southwest. Not only does it irrigate five million acres of agricultural land, it provides drinking water for 40 million people across seven states and 30 tribes.
It is essential for Congress to act now to mitigate worsening climate change and meaningfully address our Western water crisis.
We can change the trajectory of drought and other climate change impacts by working collaboratively. Looking toward our water and agricultural future, young and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) farmers and ranchers in the Colorado River Basin are critical to addressing both our dwindling water resources and producer populations. With the 2023 Farm Bill due to be reauthorized next year by Congress, federal policymakers should ensure young and BIPOC farmers have equitable access to the conservation programs and risk management programs.
Congress also needs to prioritize access to irrigated farmland and funding for research and education programs as they revise the 2023 Farm Bill. As we work together to make changes, USDA must engage in intentional outreach to build trust and make sure that existing programs and resources are reaching farmers of color and those who need it most.
We already have the tools to address the Western water crisis. We need the political will to secure a sustainable Western water future and sustain a good quality of life for generations to come.
You can view the June 14, 2022 Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry hearing here.