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Colorado River: “The time for action is now”

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

Tuesday May 28th was hopefully a big day for the future of the Colorado River. At a meeting in San Diego, leaders of the Colorado River basin states, tribes, federal government, and environmental groups convened to launch the “Next Steps” in the Colorado River Basin Study.  The Study, which was initially released in 2012, indicated that a crisis is coming for the river and its users as population growth and climate change converge to slowly continue draining the river and its two main reservoirs, Powell and Mead.

At the meeting in San Diego, “ACTION” was the keyword used by all of the speakers including Commissioner Michael Connor for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Assistant Secretary of Interior Anne Castle who described the Study as “An alarm clock we can’t hit the snooze button on.”  Jennifer Pitt, from the Environmental Defense Fund representing environmental groups on the panel, took it a step further by saying, “The time for action is now.  We don’t need more studies, we need solutions.”

The leaders propose to make that action happen by creating “work groups” that further study three separate issues and provide recommendations for: 1) agricultural conservation and transfers, 2) municipal conservation and reuse, and 3) healthy river flows. The Save The Colorado River campaign is pleased to see a work group solely dedicated to “healthy river flows,” and we agree that the time for action is now.  The Colorado River is severely imperiled with too many dams and diversions, plans for more dams and diversions, endangered fish and habitat, and of course the 5 trillion gallons of water in the river is drained out and the river never reaches the Gulf of California.

While important progress has been made on some of those issues last year, a lot more progress needs to happen soon. We are especially concerned about all of the new proposed dam and reservoir projects that will further drain the river.  For example, yesterday Denver Water sent out a rather bragging press release about how they are working with all of the basinwide leaders and the agricultural and environmental community, but at the same time Denver water is proposing a new diversion project to take another 18,000 acre feet out of the Colorado River.  Unfortunately, the cast of characters like Denver Water is too long to go through in this blog — cities and water providers say they want to collaborate with environmentalists, but often go right back to business as usual of draining and destroying the river.

Further, we are concerned that the federal government is not acting quickly or strongly enough.  For example, the habitat for fish and wildlife in the Grand Canyon continues to degrade, but the federal government’s solution — re-timing flows out of Glen Canyon Dam — simply isn’t working.  As another example, all of the speakers at yesterday’s event talked about “water conservation,” but we think the federal government needs to play a much stronger hand in requiring this conservation to take place.  Sprawling, water-wasting cities and lavish green lawns are still commonplace throughout the Southwest U.S. from Denver to San Diego.  In our opinion, degrading and destroying the Colorado River to grow grass in the desert is immoral.  The federal government needs to act more quickly and strongly.

The meeting yesterday was widely covered in the media:  Here in the Los Angeles Times, here in the Deseret News, and here on NPR’s Marketplace.

Stay tuned for more information about our work to protect and restore the Colorado River, and thank you for your support!

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