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Elect candidates to fix failing water system

drought, Colorado River, Lake Mead, crisis, water, Arizona State University, groundwater depletion

A bathtub ring of light minerals shows the high water line of Lake Mead near Hoover Dam at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nev., on June 26. Arizona had and is still experiencing a crisis in groundwater depletion, causing wells and rivers to go dry. (AP Photo/John Locher)

There are headlines in national and local media shouting “The Colorado River is in crisis!”

This crisis has been in the making since the Colorado River Compact of 1922, which based the amount of water to be divided by the upper and lower basin states on a few wet years, did not include the Tribal nations – and was never corrected. It is a system of water use designed for depletion of natural resources and the collapse of the Colorado River ecosystems.

Arizona had (still has) a crisis in groundwater depletion, causing wells and rivers to go dry. The Groundwater Management Act of 1980 was supposed to address this but excluded many aquifers of the state outside the more populated areas and has yet to achieve safe yield. It also did not address groundwater pumping’s impacts on rivers. No legislation has passed to mitigate this crisis.

We have had 20-plus years of drought (finally acknowledged as climate change) and no meaningful water law reforms to address the declining health of our rivers and watersheds from aridification.

drought, water, Colorado River, Lake Mead, ASU, watershed, rivers

Kristen Wolfe

Arizona prides and promotes itself as a world leader in water management. Yet rural wells and rivers are drying up because sustainable water management plans are hindered by laws no longer appropriate for these times. Perhaps Rhett Larson, an Arizona State University professor of water law, said it best: “A big part of our problem right now is that we have 18th and 19th century laws, we have 20th century infrastructure, and we have 21st century population and climate.”

We are losing our desert rivers and the aquifers that support them. Water laws are outdated and piecemeal, and they exclude many other uses of water, as well as favor depletion and allow rivers and aquifers to be managed out of existence. We need leaders with the courage to advocate for over-arching sustainable water policies and laws (at the state and Colorado River Basin levels) and with the vision and clarity to look at our natural resources more holistically now and for the future.

Arizona law says, “The waters of all sources, flowing in streams, canyons, ravines…, whether perennial or intermittent…and of lakes, ponds and springs on the surface, belong to the public and are subject to appropriation and beneficial use … ”

Our precious and scarce desert water, the public’s water, needs better protection and that will require water law changes. Pay attention to the candidates running for state offices and their commitment to meaningful water law reforms.

Vote in candidates who will support – not block – sustainable water law reform; who understand that there is more to water, to rivers and all the life they support – that can’t be measured in just dollars and acre feet. Vote in candidates with the courage and vision to change a failing system and who will question the use of billions of dollars for future pipe dreams and desalination plants without promoting serious conversations about unlimited growth and development and current agricultural practices and crops. Vote in candidates willing to bring in more voices and transparency to water decision-making tables. Our rivers depend on it.

Kristen Wolfe is a coordinator for the Sustainable Water Network.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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