No Time for Superglue

Scenic Colorado River

Colorado River, AZ, CA, CO, UT | Dennis R.

An article in the New York Times the other day really got me thinking. As winter is approaching many western states in the United States, are prepping for their traditional epic mountain snow season, which is not only the basis for their winter tourism, but is also the source of drinking water for most of the western United States.

Unfortunately, as the climate continues to shift, it is likely that the western mountain ranges are likely to see smaller snowpack in the future.

A vast number of people rely on snowmelt from the Rockies to the Colorado River for drinking water including those in the thriving metropolises of Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Denver, as well as a source of irrigation for the many farms that cover the landscape. As the Colorado River Basin continues to grow, more demand and stress will be placed on an already over-allocated basin.

The decreasing supply will soon be unable to meet the increasing demands of the basin’s water users and the natural ecosystems that the river supports. We can no longer rely on a superglue and duct tape planning process in managing the complexities of the Colorado River. We need a real solution to help us manage and plan for the future.

This November, the Bureau of Reclamation is set to release a basin study on water supply and demand in the Colorado River – this is a real opportunity to begin the process of managing the multifaceted and shifting river system.

Currently, water demand for the basin is so great that there is very little water in the river allocated to the actual river itself. Traditional ecosystems and species have been affected and altered by the immense plumbing network that is the Colorado River – a system of diversions, dams and reservoirs.

In order to compensate for the alteration to the river, the Bureau of Reclamation schedules “high flow” releases to help restore the natural environment. One began on Sunday. While these releases will help, they are just a small piece of tape covering up an expanding hole.

Planning for the future to help protect both ecosystem and communities is essential. Focusing on water conservation and developing a plan that will focus on keeping flows in the river, in addition to the people of the basin will be a critical first step.

The Colorado River is an iconic piece of American geography and history. It is critical that the basin comes together as a community and develops a plan to put the river on the path to a sustainable future.