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Save The Colorado Update: Jewell Steps In As River Conflicts Rise

Hi Friends of the Colorado River!

Conflicts over water in the Colorado River basin seemed to ratchet up this past week at the same time that President Obama’s nomination for Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, was confirmed in the job.

First, in a long-awaited and tense decision, the Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, rejected an agreement with the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas that would have piped water from central Utah down to Las Vegas.  The decision sent shock waves throughout the Southwest U.S. and is surely to increase water wars as cities and states struggle over the last drops of water in the Colorado River and beyond.  Environmentalists in Utah heralded the agreement as a victory for Utah, as well as a victory for smarter water policy.  The Save The Colorado River Campaign has been proud to support our friends in Utah who have been fighting this project, including the Utah Rivers Council who were quoted in this Salt Lake Tribune article:  “This is a great decision for Utah, and we are grateful to the governor for doing the right thing,” said Zach Frankel, director of the Utah Rivers Council. “The water project was not just another environmental disaster, it was about to be a dust bowl that would choke the West’s people and environment with toxic dust.”

Second, tensions are rising in Western Colorado as oil and gas chemicals are seeping towards and into Parachute Creek, a tributary to the Colorado River.  The toxic chemicals have been found in the groundwater surrounding the creek, with cancer-causing benzene at levels 3,600 times higher than what is allowed by public health laws.  Nearby residents are concerned that the chemicals may have impacted wells and drinking water supplies fed by the creek.  This incident is just one example of the legacy of current and past extreme energy extraction — including oil, gas, tar sands, uranium, coal, and more — that threaten water quality throughout the Colorado River basin.  This Denver Fox News video hits the target as locals near Parachute Creek highlight the fact that when pollution enters the groundwater and the Creek, it could quickly travel downstream and contaminate water supplies for 35 million people in the Southwest U.S.

Into this mix steps the new Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell.  Yesterday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Jewell as the replacement for former Secretary Ken Salazar.  Jewell’s confirmation swept through the Senate with an 87-11 vote and was met with hope by many leaders in the environmental community.  Jewell has some big Tevas to fill as a replacement for Salazar with regards to the Colorado River. Salazar helped push through some important changes in river science and management, as well as a “Call To Action” from the Colorado River Basin Study.  This article highlights several quotes from national environmental leaders about Jewell’s confirmation.

On some bright news in Colorado River water supply issues, the City of Los Angeles is making strides towards an innovative approach to increasing its water supplies as well as controlling its stormwater runoff that pollutes beaches and bays along the coast.  The City’s program to begin recycling stormwater into drinking water was highlighted in the New York Times this week — it promises to address these two growing problems for the City.  In addition, environmental organizations throughout Los Angeles and beyond are supporting the effort.  The Save The Colorado River Campaign has been proud to support the Los Angeles Waterkeeper’s work to help the City of Los Angeles recycle its stormwater.  If Los Angeles can do it, can’t every city in the Southwest do it?  Yes!  Take a read of the New York Times article here.

Thank you for your support!  Stay tuned for more Colorado River updates!

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