Story at a glance
- Despite the heavy rains that hit California earlier this winter, more water conservation is needed to help the West meet the challenges caused by decades of drought.
- Thanks to climate change, reliable water sources are under threat from unpredictable weather.
- In the future, the cuts will fall heavily on the agricultural sector, experts say.
Major storms that hit California earlier this winter inundated more than 1,000 people 32 trillion gallons of water over the state, helped increase some area reservoirs and increase the mass of snow in it major mountains throughout the West.
But despite this temporary delay, the region will need to work on conserving water and reducing demand given climate change.
Global warming has exacerbated droughts in the West. Combined with growing demand from a rising population, it drains the Colorado River, which supplies water to seven states and helps feed the nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
“If we want to have a stable Colorado River system going forward, we have to reduce consumer use, and there’s no way around it,” said Eric Balken, executive director of the Glen Canyon Institute.
“We can’t increase supply so the only part we control is the demand part of the equation. And it’s a tough job.”
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Climate change brings warmer and more unpredictable weather and poses a threat to the reliable supply of snowpacks that melt in rivers. Warmer temperatures increase evaporation from reservoirs and compound a host of other factors that threaten water supplies in the West.
Reducing demand is “the big handle we have in the system, and ultimately, we may be putting ourselves in a position where we have no choice,” said Adrian Harbold, associate professor of mountain aquatic ecology at the University of Nevada, Reno. .
The seven states that draw water from the Colorado River are working toward an agreement by the end of the month to preserve it 2 million acres or more Colorado River waters in 2023.
This is in addition to the cuts that have already taken effect in Arizona this month, and were first announced last August by reclamation office. The cuts slashed supply in Arizona 21 percentand Nevada with 8 percent and Mexico with 7 percent.
If the states fail to reach an agreement by January 31, the federal government will step in.
“There has been extensive pooling of water from the Colorado River in the last 30 years for sure, if not longer,” said Jay Lund, co-director of the Watershed Science Center and professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis.
Decades ago, some states weren’t using their entire allowance. Lund explained that demands and allocations have been higher than flows in the past 20 to 40 years.
“Unless we get an unexpected flood, we’re actually going to have to reduce water use in the lower Colorado River basin by a huge amount, maybe 20 or maybe even 30 percent,” Lund said. “Reducing water use is the only way out of this.”
To counter the growing water crisis in the West, some of the proposed partial solutions include increasing desalination efforts, but the process is costly and energy-intensive.
increasing Managed recharge of the aquifer Projects, or helping surface water seep into aqueducts more efficiently, is also an option for some areas.
But Lund said the main problem with the lower Colorado River basin is that there is no water to recharge.
The role of agriculture
Around 80 percent Water from the Colorado River goes toward agriculture. Over the years, a number of farmers have already adapted to the growing shortage.
Some have switched to growing less water-intensive crops, while others have implemented new irrigation techniques to reduce water waste.
However, more is needed.
“When we talk about conservation, urban conservation is a good thing, and that’s okay. But even if all the cities just dried up and got everyone to move away, you wouldn’t have enough water to avoid shortages,” Lund said, noting the importance of agricultural cuts.
Going ahead, fallowing the land, or leaving the arable land for a year or more before cultivating it again, would conserve a great deal of water, although some farmers prefer this Avoid this option.
Choosing to grow different crops and selecting the best suitable areas to grow can also help the sector conserve water.
However, any future reductions will ultimately need to balance the demands of rural agricultural areas with those in urban areas.
“We really need to think about the economic impacts of these decisions in a way that really considers the socioeconomic situation of people and vulnerable populations,” Harbold said.
For those hardest hit, resorting to alternative economic rules may be an option. If the cuts are imposed at the federal level, the government can allocate some money to communities to help them transition.
The Inflation Reduction Act passed last year includes $4 billion to fund water management and conservation efforts in the Colorado River Basin and other areas facing similar levels of drought.
Overall, “we have to rethink the way we manage water in the West,” Palkin said. “We can’t let a good winter stop this important work.”