The Senate Ag Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources took up the topic of the Western Drought during a recent hearing. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado opened the hearing with comments on the situation of drought in his state and how it’s affecting the Colorado River.
“My state sits at the headwaters of the Colorado River, which starts as snowmelt in the Rockies before cutting to the west 1400 miles to the Sea of Cortez. The Colorado River Basin is the lifeblood of the American southwest it provides the drinking water for 40 million people across seven states and 30 tribes. It irrigates five million acres of agricultural land. In underpins the West’s $26 billion outdoor recreations and tourism economy and it is running out of water,” he said. “The two largest reservoirs in the basin, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are at the lowest levels they’ve been in since they were filled over 50 years ago. Lake Powell has dropped more than 30 feet just in the last few years. The water crisis is not limited to the Colorado River Basin. The most recent data from the US drought monitor found it more than 50% of the entire contiguous United States is experiencing severe drought, and right now more than 75% of the western region is seeing severe drought. These conditions threaten to put farmers and ranchers out of business, threaten the communities that rely on water to support their families and their livelihoods, which is every community in the West, and frankly threaten our way of life in the West.”
Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District was a witness at the hearing and said the Colorado River is aptly referred to as the hardest working river in America, but it is now struggling.
“Even in wet years, the river no longer reaches its natural mouth at the Sea of Cortez and claims to water exceed the average annual flow. The massive system of federal reservoirs on the Colorado River was designed to accommodate the known natural variability in the Colorado River System and worked extremely well for at least half of a century. However, after the longest and most severe drought on record, that once highly functioning federal system is dangerously depleted with only 34% of system storage remaining.”
He said over the last 22 years, the flows of the Colorado River have been 20% below average and he said sound science says we should anticipate and plan for further significant reductions in flow.
“To say that all thriving urban and rural communities and the natural ecosystem of the river face a gravely uncertain future is not hyperbole. While we may hope for a cooler wetter future, those of us responsible for our region and nation’s water security must pay attention to credible science and plan for the worst. Our nation’s leaders must understand what is happening and what lies at the root of this accelerating crisis.”
He emphasized how farming families are widely affected by these changes.
“None have felt these climate impacts more than the family-owned farms and ranches of our Colorado River District and Colorado’s Western Slope. The food and fiber produced from our region sustain communities across the state and the nation, but drought-based water scarcity has forced many local producers to downsize or completely shut down their operations.”
National Correspondent / AgNet Media, Inc.
Sabrina Halvorson is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and public speaker who specializes in agriculture. She primarily reports on legislative issues and hosts The AgNet Weekly podcast. Sabrina is a native of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley.