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Unnatural Disaster Gripping the Colorado River Basin

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August 23, 2013

Unnatural Disaster Gripping the Colorado River Basin

By Bob Marshall


This interactive image on the
National Geographic website lets you compare water levels on the Colarado River from 1999 (left) to 2013 (right).

If you’re a sportsmen living in the Colorado River drainage, there are three things you need to know in a very big hurry:

• The water you depend on for living as well as hunting and fishing is going away, fast.
• If you don’t get involved quickly, the future of hunting and fishing as you know it looks grim for your children.
• Despite what the politicians and civic leaders are screaming, there is nothing natural about this disaster.

Let’s start at the top.

First — with the Colorado drainage now in the 14th year of the worst drought in 100 years, the Bureau of Reclamation recently announced  it was reducing the amount of water released from Lake Powell into Lake Mead to record lows. The move, which sent shock waves through the entire Southwest, was mandated by an agreement signed in 2007 by the seven states in the Colorado River basin.

That brings us to No. 2.

Numerous industries depend on the river for life, including giants such as agriculture, power and housing developers. But so does another giant industry – outdoors recreation.

A Deseret News story explained:
Conservation groups warned that the federal action dramatically increases the chance for an unprecedented water crisis in the West, where 30 million people depend on the Colorado River for its water supply. The river also is the lifeblood of agriculture in much of the basin states, where more than 90 percent of pasture and cropland requires irrigation. The river also supports a $26 billion recreation economy that employs a quarter-million Americans.

“On the west slope, outdoor recreation is a major part of the economy and depends on healthy habitat in the Colorado River. Agriculture also depends on healthy river flows. We’re all in this boat together’, said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited's Colorado Water Project. “We have to implement cooperative solutions that work for everyone.”

This is where sportsmen need to come in, and quickly.

While the decision on the water release from Lake Powell is grabbing immediate headlines, it also will influence discussions currently underway about how to manage the entire watershed in the age of declining water due to climate change and increasing growth. And as in almost all “stakeholder” gatherings to discuss how to manage publicly owned resources fish, wildlife and sportsmen are not sitting at or even near the head of the table – yet.

Jimmy Hague, director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for Water Resources, knows what’s at stake.

“This is an unmistakable signal that we’re entering a new paradigm on the Colorado River, and unless sportsmen get involved in decisions influencing this new paradigm, we will be left out in the cold when it comes to water use.”

Sportsmen should contact their local conservation groups to volunteer for action, send emails to their congressional delegations (find out how at www.contactingthecongress.org) and go to the TRCP web site to contact Hague for more information.

Finally, any time you hear a politician or business group calling this a “natural disaster” take the time to set them straight.

There are no disasters in nature, only events. Drought has long been a naturally occurring event in the arid southwest, one that the flora and fauna we found there had adapted to – or they wouldn’t have been there.

“Natural disaster” in the human lexicon describes what happens to us when we are damaged by a natural event – as when we allow communities to expand beyond the capacity of the local environmental infrastructure to support it. The Colorado River drainage has long been Exhibit A of this folly.

There are now more than 29 major dams on this river, and thousands of miles of canals, all built to help more than 30 million people live in areas that did not have enough natural water to support them all. It was always a zero-sum game, but the profits that come from ever-expanding communities made people ignore the math.

This is a disaster, all right, but there’s nothing natural about it.

Comments (15)

Top Rated
All Comments
from steve182 wrote 34 weeks 1 day ago

Twenty plus years ago when I was in that area there was lots of talk of the Colorado being sucked dry.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jay wrote 34 weeks 1 day ago

so now that the problem is defined, what would be some solutions?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ol Krusty wrote 34 weeks 17 hours ago

If we can just get rid of Las Vegas, and Laughlin it would solve the problem. Send them all back to California.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from mike0714 wrote 34 weeks 14 hours ago

ol krusty the problem is california. the water allotments for the river where signed during one of the wettest years on record which held the highest river levels ever recored. And guess what state has the biggest allotment. also every year California takes more then their allotment and pays fees to the other states and mexico but the pricing structure used for these fees has been around since before nixon!!! The state makes more money from the taxes from the crops and selling the water then the fees are. The allotment needs to be redone based on the more recent water levels and fees should be based on actual cost of water. Finally there need to be water restrictions here in the southwest. I have family in New York and New Jersey that can't wash their cars or water there laws on certain days of the week yet in arizona you can do those things and more when ever you want. There is even a city in the north east valley of arizona called fountain hills that shoots of the 3 largest fountain on earth even hour. the solution is better legislation as far as the allotments go and better use of the most important resource in one of the largest deserts in america.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from babsfish4life wrote 34 weeks 11 hours ago

Mike-
Just to let you know the fountain hills fountain shoots recycled sewage water. If you are ever near the fountain near the top of the hour you better check the wind or you will smell like shiz the rest of the day! I live in Wyoming and most of the rivers can't be touched because a majority of the water belongs to other states. While it sucks for farmers, it make benefits the fishing greatly by giving them water.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ol Krusty wrote 34 weeks 10 hours ago

Mike0714,
We'll just have to agree to disagree. The Problem is putting 30 million people in one of the driest climates on earth. According to USGS, the average person uses 80-100 gallons of water a day, multiply that by 30 million and you get 2,400,000,000 gallons of water used every day! Its easy to see why were are in the predicament we're in. I don't know if that number includes irrigation used by people to water their lawns, and for water used for business operation. While I understand that Clark County Nevada only represents 15% of 30 million people, the population increase for that county from 1999 to 2013 is 40%. It went from 800,000 to 2 million. Are we really wondering why we don't have any water after putting another 1.2 million people in the desert?
You are right about public officials failing us in regards to water usage, but don't they always fail us in nearly all aspects? They have known about the possibility of running out of water for years, but the pricks turned a blind eye to it because of all of the money that new housing development and construction was bringing in. Its still happening just look at the population growth in areas along or near the Colorado River and its tributaries. How are they going to solve the problem for water shortage in Las Vegas? By forcing a water pipeline down the throats of the rural communities in central Nevada and Utah. They will pump billions of gallons of water away from an area that relies heavily on agriculture, that I remind you also has to deal with this nasty drought too.
As you can see, I don't like Las Vegas, I left the city back in 2007. My favorite part of Vegas is seeing it in my rear view mirror as I head up north bound I-15.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ol Krusty wrote 34 weeks 10 hours ago

Also, I'm not trying to pick a fight, I do appreciate your comments and think you gave some excellent points. I hope anyone who relies on this area for hunting and fishing feels as passionate about this situation as we do.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from mike0714 wrote 34 weeks 8 hours ago

babs some of the water is grey water but not all of it. the water that is used with the fountain comes from fountain lake which is only supplemented with grey water but city water is also used. that is why fishing and swimming are not allowed in the lake but recreation near the lake is. also grey water if it goes through a final cleaning process can be used for crops and livestock. it is all about smart use and reuse. If you ask anyone from here in az what the most important natural resource is they will say water. As someone whole lived in the valley for over a decade i understand the need for water and allotments. but I was also taught waste not want not by my parents and i am annoyed by the amount of water i saw wasted every day. On every thing from lawns,to fountains, to washing a car twice a week. and ol krusty you have some great points and people are one of the many issues faced by the water shed. i'm no fan of vegas myself. Arizona has the longest shore line of the Colorado by far yet only gets 19% of the allotment With california getting about 29% Colorado getting roughly 26% (az at 19%) Utah getting 11%, wyoming getting 7%, new mexico getting 5%, and nevada getting 2%.(I know that adds up to 99% but the numbers are close but not exact because i did not feel like doing decimals) with the total of 15 million acre feet of water use allowed. The average water movement according to the allotment is 16.3 million acre feet but true numbers are some where between 15.5 and 13.9 million. also az, nm, co, and utah don't use all the water given to them in the allotment and California was given use over the remainder by the Secretary of the Interior in 2001 giving California 15 years to come up with a solution for better water use management. well we are 12 years in and California has not reduced but increased their dependance on the water to the point where the over use the allotment and excess and have to pay fines as i said to the other states in the lower basin colorado river water allotment (az and nv) and mexico. Finally of CA 29%+ share almost 60% of it goes to agriculture in Southern and South central CA. Finally krusty you are right about the pipeline to vegas but i don't believe it is from the colorado river water shed. which means it is just causing problems for another water shed.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from mike0714 wrote 34 weeks 8 hours ago

another tidbit of info the last time the allotment was even looked at was during az vs ca which was decided by the supreme court in 1968. before that the last treaty was signed in 1944 in which az and mexico entered in to the allotment.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from rock rat wrote 34 weeks 6 hours ago

I'd feel more protective of the waters of the Colorado in Colorado if they were public. This private ownership of rivers leaves me high and dry, can't even canoe lots of places. Course there are those leases by private fishing clubs.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from walt in wi wrote 33 weeks 6 days ago

Fresh, clean water.....the resource of the future that we fight over, just like oil is now?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from chuckles wrote 33 weeks 6 days ago

Damn right, too many people using water in unsustainable ways. I knew it was getting bad when they started talking about pipeline from the Green. Money seems to be an inexorable force these days.

rockrat, they haven't changed the navigable waters laws have they? I always have gone by the rule that if it will float a boat you can fish it. We did have a guy on the Arkansas tell us we couldn't float the section he was fishing. My buddy's only reply was "If we make you mad what are you going to do on the 4th of July?"

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from damo450 wrote 33 weeks 5 days ago

OLKrusty, I agree whole heartedly with you. I live in the Phoenix valley and plain and simple there are too many people in the southwest. This has put an irreversible strain on water resources. Our local water provider, SRP, has commercials talking about all of the water we have here, and we have plenty of water, blah blah blah. That is total hogwash. We will runout. Plain and simple. There is a huge aquifer almost directly under sky harbor airport in Phoenix that is completely unusable because manufacturing dumping in the 60's My wife and I also have a farm in Missouri, where I am from. And will be moving back there at the end of November. The way people treat resources here in Arizona and the southwest as a whole is disgusting. The deserts are beautiful and do not deserve to be trashed by weekend warriors out shooting everything in sight. Dragging out old TV's and God knows what to be shot at. Only to leave all there trash right where they found it. We asked for it and its coming. Water will be the reason for the next great war. It is the oil of the 21st century and we are running out. All across the country. Just ask T. Boone Pickens what he is buying up.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Constant Gardener wrote 33 weeks 5 days ago

Who knew Phoenix metro (and other parts of the southwest) contained so many knowledgeable and reasonable people? These posts are really elucidating and I wish I got to read more like them.

I live in AZ too and I watch my neighbors' sprinklers come on in the mid-afternoon, under our sun, and then I watch them bag their clippings and send them to the landfill, and it's like being punched.

Phoenix City Council elections tomorrow. A lot is on the line.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from RealGoodMan wrote 33 weeks 4 days ago

Wasting water is a downright sin.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from mike0714 wrote 34 weeks 14 hours ago

ol krusty the problem is california. the water allotments for the river where signed during one of the wettest years on record which held the highest river levels ever recored. And guess what state has the biggest allotment. also every year California takes more then their allotment and pays fees to the other states and mexico but the pricing structure used for these fees has been around since before nixon!!! The state makes more money from the taxes from the crops and selling the water then the fees are. The allotment needs to be redone based on the more recent water levels and fees should be based on actual cost of water. Finally there need to be water restrictions here in the southwest. I have family in New York and New Jersey that can't wash their cars or water there laws on certain days of the week yet in arizona you can do those things and more when ever you want. There is even a city in the north east valley of arizona called fountain hills that shoots of the 3 largest fountain on earth even hour. the solution is better legislation as far as the allotments go and better use of the most important resource in one of the largest deserts in america.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ol Krusty wrote 34 weeks 10 hours ago

Mike0714,
We'll just have to agree to disagree. The Problem is putting 30 million people in one of the driest climates on earth. According to USGS, the average person uses 80-100 gallons of water a day, multiply that by 30 million and you get 2,400,000,000 gallons of water used every day! Its easy to see why were are in the predicament we're in. I don't know if that number includes irrigation used by people to water their lawns, and for water used for business operation. While I understand that Clark County Nevada only represents 15% of 30 million people, the population increase for that county from 1999 to 2013 is 40%. It went from 800,000 to 2 million. Are we really wondering why we don't have any water after putting another 1.2 million people in the desert?
You are right about public officials failing us in regards to water usage, but don't they always fail us in nearly all aspects? They have known about the possibility of running out of water for years, but the pricks turned a blind eye to it because of all of the money that new housing development and construction was bringing in. Its still happening just look at the population growth in areas along or near the Colorado River and its tributaries. How are they going to solve the problem for water shortage in Las Vegas? By forcing a water pipeline down the throats of the rural communities in central Nevada and Utah. They will pump billions of gallons of water away from an area that relies heavily on agriculture, that I remind you also has to deal with this nasty drought too.
As you can see, I don't like Las Vegas, I left the city back in 2007. My favorite part of Vegas is seeing it in my rear view mirror as I head up north bound I-15.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from walt in wi wrote 33 weeks 6 days ago

Fresh, clean water.....the resource of the future that we fight over, just like oil is now?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from chuckles wrote 33 weeks 6 days ago

Damn right, too many people using water in unsustainable ways. I knew it was getting bad when they started talking about pipeline from the Green. Money seems to be an inexorable force these days.

rockrat, they haven't changed the navigable waters laws have they? I always have gone by the rule that if it will float a boat you can fish it. We did have a guy on the Arkansas tell us we couldn't float the section he was fishing. My buddy's only reply was "If we make you mad what are you going to do on the 4th of July?"

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from damo450 wrote 33 weeks 5 days ago

OLKrusty, I agree whole heartedly with you. I live in the Phoenix valley and plain and simple there are too many people in the southwest. This has put an irreversible strain on water resources. Our local water provider, SRP, has commercials talking about all of the water we have here, and we have plenty of water, blah blah blah. That is total hogwash. We will runout. Plain and simple. There is a huge aquifer almost directly under sky harbor airport in Phoenix that is completely unusable because manufacturing dumping in the 60's My wife and I also have a farm in Missouri, where I am from. And will be moving back there at the end of November. The way people treat resources here in Arizona and the southwest as a whole is disgusting. The deserts are beautiful and do not deserve to be trashed by weekend warriors out shooting everything in sight. Dragging out old TV's and God knows what to be shot at. Only to leave all there trash right where they found it. We asked for it and its coming. Water will be the reason for the next great war. It is the oil of the 21st century and we are running out. All across the country. Just ask T. Boone Pickens what he is buying up.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Constant Gardener wrote 33 weeks 5 days ago

Who knew Phoenix metro (and other parts of the southwest) contained so many knowledgeable and reasonable people? These posts are really elucidating and I wish I got to read more like them.

I live in AZ too and I watch my neighbors' sprinklers come on in the mid-afternoon, under our sun, and then I watch them bag their clippings and send them to the landfill, and it's like being punched.

Phoenix City Council elections tomorrow. A lot is on the line.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ol Krusty wrote 34 weeks 10 hours ago

Also, I'm not trying to pick a fight, I do appreciate your comments and think you gave some excellent points. I hope anyone who relies on this area for hunting and fishing feels as passionate about this situation as we do.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from mike0714 wrote 34 weeks 8 hours ago

babs some of the water is grey water but not all of it. the water that is used with the fountain comes from fountain lake which is only supplemented with grey water but city water is also used. that is why fishing and swimming are not allowed in the lake but recreation near the lake is. also grey water if it goes through a final cleaning process can be used for crops and livestock. it is all about smart use and reuse. If you ask anyone from here in az what the most important natural resource is they will say water. As someone whole lived in the valley for over a decade i understand the need for water and allotments. but I was also taught waste not want not by my parents and i am annoyed by the amount of water i saw wasted every day. On every thing from lawns,to fountains, to washing a car twice a week. and ol krusty you have some great points and people are one of the many issues faced by the water shed. i'm no fan of vegas myself. Arizona has the longest shore line of the Colorado by far yet only gets 19% of the allotment With california getting about 29% Colorado getting roughly 26% (az at 19%) Utah getting 11%, wyoming getting 7%, new mexico getting 5%, and nevada getting 2%.(I know that adds up to 99% but the numbers are close but not exact because i did not feel like doing decimals) with the total of 15 million acre feet of water use allowed. The average water movement according to the allotment is 16.3 million acre feet but true numbers are some where between 15.5 and 13.9 million. also az, nm, co, and utah don't use all the water given to them in the allotment and California was given use over the remainder by the Secretary of the Interior in 2001 giving California 15 years to come up with a solution for better water use management. well we are 12 years in and California has not reduced but increased their dependance on the water to the point where the over use the allotment and excess and have to pay fines as i said to the other states in the lower basin colorado river water allotment (az and nv) and mexico. Finally of CA 29%+ share almost 60% of it goes to agriculture in Southern and South central CA. Finally krusty you are right about the pipeline to vegas but i don't believe it is from the colorado river water shed. which means it is just causing problems for another water shed.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from mike0714 wrote 34 weeks 8 hours ago

another tidbit of info the last time the allotment was even looked at was during az vs ca which was decided by the supreme court in 1968. before that the last treaty was signed in 1944 in which az and mexico entered in to the allotment.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from rock rat wrote 34 weeks 6 hours ago

I'd feel more protective of the waters of the Colorado in Colorado if they were public. This private ownership of rivers leaves me high and dry, can't even canoe lots of places. Course there are those leases by private fishing clubs.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from RealGoodMan wrote 33 weeks 4 days ago

Wasting water is a downright sin.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from steve182 wrote 34 weeks 1 day ago

Twenty plus years ago when I was in that area there was lots of talk of the Colorado being sucked dry.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jay wrote 34 weeks 1 day ago

so now that the problem is defined, what would be some solutions?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ol Krusty wrote 34 weeks 17 hours ago

If we can just get rid of Las Vegas, and Laughlin it would solve the problem. Send them all back to California.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from babsfish4life wrote 34 weeks 11 hours ago

Mike-
Just to let you know the fountain hills fountain shoots recycled sewage water. If you are ever near the fountain near the top of the hour you better check the wind or you will smell like shiz the rest of the day! I live in Wyoming and most of the rivers can't be touched because a majority of the water belongs to other states. While it sucks for farmers, it make benefits the fishing greatly by giving them water.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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