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The California Drought: Apocalypse Now?

Happy Monday Friends of the Colorado River!

About a year ago I was speaking on a panel of water professionals in Palm Springs, California, at an event put on by the Palm Springs newspaper, The Desert Sun. The keynote speaker for the event was U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and so there was a famiglietti-smallpretty big crowd with lots local VIPS in attendance. When I was interviewed by the local TV station, I said “If it becomes a 2 year or 3 year drought, and the supply of water coming from the Colorado River gets cut back, then it will become ‘gut time.‘”

Well now California has just entered into its 4th year of drought and it’s gut time. Last week, Governor Brown moved forward with his second billion-dollar “drought relief plan.” Southern California is calling for big cutbacks in water use and is buying water from farmers in northern California. And, many cities across the state are enacting stronger water conservation plans.

One of the people on the panel with me was Jay Famiglietti, a scientist at UC-Irvine who is also with NASA. Jay has made big news the last few years by using satellites to measure groundwater across California and the Southwest U.S. He’s also been one of leading voices in the media warning California about this drought. At the same time that Californian’s have sucked their reservoirs nearly dry, they’ve also pumped massive amounts of water out of the ground. Further, across the Colorado River basin over the past 15 years, the water in Lake’s Powell and Mead has dropped by 25 million acre feet, and the amount of water pumped out of the ground that has also not been replenished has been about 25 million acre feet. Last week, Jay had an op-ed in the LA Times titled, “California has about one year of water stored. Will you ration now?”

To state this pointedly: We’ve tapped the surface rivers and reservoirs and the groundwater across California and the Southwest U.S. to lower levels than at anytime in history. And, there’s likely no way this water can ever be replenished.

JamesEklundProfile-smallSo what can we do about it? The first thing we cannot do is drain and divert even more water out of the Colorado River which provides water to the entire Southwest U.S. and Southern California. That’s why our organization has taken a strong interest and stance in the “Colorado Water Plan” and the actions of the person who is writing the plan, James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Unfortunately, Eklund’s plan is proposing to take a massive amount of new water out of the Colorado River — at the very top of the basin in the state of Colorado — thus ensuring even more dire circumstances for the river and folks downstream in Arizona, Nevada, and southern California. Further, Eklund has been saying “False Information” about the plan, which I pointed out in this rebuttal to one of his newspaper columns.

So what can we do right now help send a message:

1. Click through here on facebook and leave a little note to Jay Famiglietti letting him know we appreciate his work and his speaking out about this issue. He’s combining good science with sound ethics — studying a problem and speaking out about it. Jay needs to be supported in his work.

2. Click through here on facebook and leave a little note to James Eklund respectfully letting him know we are disappointed in his work so far. The Colorado Water Plan needs to focus on conservation, efficiency, recycling, and water-sharing agreements with farmers, not new diversions of water out of the Colorado River.

2015 is so far looking like a dry year in the Colorado River basin — stay tuned for more news and updates!  And thank you for your support!

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