Where were you on July 25th?
Perhaps you were throwing a gala event to celebrate Colorado River Day, complete with a selection of vegetables, fruits, meats – and even beer – that would not be available without water from the Colorado River. Maybe you’re still recovering from attending so many Colorado River Day parties…
Okay, so you probably weren’t awash in merriment over the Colorado River on July 25th. After all, this year is only the second official Colorado River Day, recognizing the date in 1921 when Congress re-named the “Grand River” to “The Colorado.”
The Colorado and its tributaries provide drinking water to more than 36 million people in seven states, a region collectively known as the Colorado River Basin. Most of the Basin residents have little idea where their water comes from, but Arizonans have always had a keen understanding of water needs and the vital role of the region’s mightiest river.
A full 85% of the irrigated agricultural land in Arizona depends on the Colorado River. Basin-wide, the river waters 15% of America’s crops, and it is critical for most of the region’s livestock. From meat and milk, to vegetables and grains, your plate is full only because of the Colorado River.
Yet all is not well: demand on the Colorado River now exceeds supply.
Read that last sentence again. We are using more water than the river can sustain, particularly as the population of the region continues to swell. You can see for yourself where all the water is going at CoRiverBasin.org.
If you don’t need food or water, then all of this isn’t really your concern. Otherwise, it’s time to take action.
The good news is that there is a realistic solution to our problem. A study conducted with the Basin states found that water conservation in cities and farms is the cheapest and quickest way to bring balance to The Colorado. Accelerated water conservation and re-use policies can save enough water (Basin-wide) to meet the annual residential needs of 15-30 million people.
Across the River Basin, urban landscaping now accounts for more than 50% of total annual water use. In terms of per capita potable water use, Phoenix is about average in comparison to regional neighbors, and Tucson is doing an excellent job with conservation programs and lowering water use. Scottsdale, Yuma, Lake Havasu, Casa Grande, and Chandler are also among the top potable water users in the region.
Smart water policies can yield drastic reductions if implemented correctly, and there are plenty of examples for Arizona to follow. The Palo Verde Nuclear plant west of Phoenix is 100% cooled with recycled water. Las Vegas’ “Cash for Grass” program and “Water Smart Landscape Rebate” have been very successful, as has Denver Water’s “High Efficiency Toilet” program and industrial/commercial rebates. Water recycling and re-use programs are great options for Arizona as well; crops, lawns and golf courses don’t need chlorinated water.
On the agricultural side, Arizona can implement policies for upgrading to more efficient irrigation technologies, improved irrigation scheduling, and watering reductions during drought-tolerant growth stages.
You may have missed Colorado River Day this year, but you can make up for it by talking to your local and state officials about implementing new conservation, efficiency, and re-use policies. You can also get a head start on party planning for next year’s Colorado River Day. With your help, we can celebrate a “growing” Colorado River for a change.