Water is the foundation of life. But as essential as it is, we often take it for granted and we treat it as a never-ending resource. With Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two of the nation’s largest reservoirs, and the states along the Colorado River basin in a chronic drought condition, the Colorado River is steadily losing its ability to meet all the demands placed upon it.
Thankfully, on Jan. 31 after years of discussion and collaborative efforts between state agencies and water providers, Arizona agreed to accept the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) — an agreement between California, Arizona and Nevada in the Lower Basin, and Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming in the Upper Basin — to reduce each state’s river use as a way to deal with shortages in the water supply provided by the river. This agreement is a big step toward setting up a future of more sustainable water use in the Colorado River Basin, but much work is still needed to make sure the final agreements are implemented swiftly and effectively.
The Colorado River system is one of the hardest working in the country. It supplies drinking water to seven states from its source in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park to Yuma, Arizona where it passes into Mexico. In the Lower Colorado River Basin, the water helps irrigate millions of acres of farmland, including nearly 90 percent of the nation’s winter leafy vegetables. All in all, the river is the life source for more than 30 million people, including nearly a third of the nation’s Latinos.
While it alone won’t cure Lake Mead’s dwindling water level, the DCP will allow water managers in the Upper Basin to establish the foundation for a demand management program, in which farmers will be able to create conserved water through voluntary, temporary and compensated reductions in water use, protecting water supplies in both the near-and-long-term. In the Lower Basin the DCP creates additional flexibility to incentivize voluntary conservation of water to be stored in Lake Mead.
Gov. Doug Ducey and House Speaker Rusty Bowers have both said water will be a top priority issue in 2019. And we applaud the Arizona legislature for reaching consensus and doing what’s right in joining the DCP in order to help river communities get through near-term shortages that seem inevitable. All stakeholders, working together, have the opportunity to build on the DCP and to think ahead in order to sustain the health of the Colorado River, safeguard this substantial economic driver for countless communities and make sure future generations continue to benefit from this incredible treasure.
The Colorado River is entrusted to us and is a vital source of water, life, and economic prosperity, but we must take care of it in return. Protecting the river and the water it provides will require us to develop resilient solutions that reduce water consumption and efficiently share the river’s waters. Arizona’s legislators have now taken that step to improve water management across the Colorado River basin and protect the communities, economies, and wildlife that rely on this precious resource.
Maite Arce is president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation