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Colorado River Update: Los Angeles launches water recycling plan!

Hello Friends of the Colorado River!

“The world is run by those who show up.”

A few months ago I sat in the office of Bill Hasencamp, who is Colorado River Program Director for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California which is the largest municipal water district in the Southwest U.S. and serves water to all of Southern California.  Hasencamp and I come from different perspectives when we look at the Colorado River — my mission is to get more water in the river, his mission is to get water out of the river — and so I did not know what to expect during our conversation. Over a 90-minute discussion, I was actually stunned at how much we had Screenshot (409)in common and at how many issues we agreed on, and I left the meeting feeling more hopeful and energetic than I hardly ever feel after leaving meetings with water agency managers. For example, here’s what Hasencamp and I discussed and what I thought we generally agreed on:

1. Much more can be done to conserve, reuse, and recycle water in the cities across Southern California and all throughout the Colorado River basin.

2. Agricultural water efficiency, fallowing, and decisions about which crops to grow, are the biggest opportunity for addressing the drought and water shortages across the Southwest U.S. And, using Colorado River water to grow hay in the desert and then ship that hay to China needs to be rethought.

3. Interstate water transfers should be legalized — i.e, if Colorado wants to sell water to Nevada, then Colorado should be allowed to do that.

4. With the entire Colorado River system in so much stress, its difficult to discuss draining even more water out of the river in the top of the basin in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, because, after all, “We are all in this together.”

Bill Hasencamp
Bill Hasencamp

5. The complete draining and destruction of the Colorado River Delta was an environmental disaster, and his agency wants to continue being a part of the solution to restoring a small streamflow back to the Delta.

And so I wasn’t surprised this week when the District announced they were investing in a large new water recycling plant to turn sewage into drinking water (see story in Los Angeles Times here), a technology that is already used across the world and in neighboring Orange and San Diego Counties. Wastewater recycling — often called “Toilet to Tap” — is a cheaper, easier, and faster way to get new water supplies than building new dams and reservoirs or than desalinating sea water.

Hasencamp and I didn’t agree on everything. It is my opinion that, because the system is so stressed due to drought and climate change, we should be seriously looking at draining Lake Powell and tearing down Glen Canyon Dam, and then storing the excess water in Lake Mead and in underground aquifers in California and Arizona. Hasencamp didn’t take a position on the issue, but he was certainly aware of the debate and listened respectfully to my opinion.

The whole discussion drove home one amazing point: Thirty years ago if you would have approached the Metropolitan Water District with ideas about recycling toilet water, restoring the Colorado River Delta, and tearing down dams, they would likely have not taken the meeting or laughed you out of the room. Times change. Opportunities change. Climates change. When we do this work as environmental advocates, it is always important to strongly push the right ideas forward — perhaps we are years too early and the public isn’t ready for the discussion, but the public and water managers will never be ready for the discussion if we don’t push, push, push the right ideas forward now.

Two weeks ago, I sent you an “Action Alert” asking you to push the right ideas forward to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about climate change and new dam proposals in Colorado. 700 of you took action, and thank you for doing it! The Army Corps got the emails and responded to me by saying they would consider the comments prior to their “Record of Decision” for the projects. (Click here to Take Action if you haven’t done so!)

Thank you for showing up! 

Stay tuned for more news and action to protect and restore the Colorado River!


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