“Day Of Reckoning” Coming For Colorado River Water Supply

Aerial view of Lake Powell near Navjo Mountain, San Juan River i
Aerial view of Lake Powell near Navjo Mountain, San Juan River i

Last week during a two-hour Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, members heard this from John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority,  “What has been a slow-motion train wreck for 20 years is accelerating, and the moment of reckoning is near.” You can watch the entire committee hearing here. Mr. Entsminger was not the only person to ring loud alarm bells during the hearing. Everyone else provided worrisome testimony as well.

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Why This Is A Big Deal

The Colorado River travels more than 1400 miles through the West and provides water for seven western states. This water is used for drinking water, farming, ranching, recreation, and manufacturing. Almost 40 million Americans rely on Colorado River Water directly, and many more when you consider how much is grown in the West to supply food for the rest of the United States. Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States by volume and is second only to Lake Powell in surface area. Currently, they are at 29% capacity and 27%, respectively. Lake Mead has not been at full capacity since the summer of 1983.

What Is The Solution

Most of what we’ve seen in the press for solutions is more of a stick than a carrot solution in the way of fines and demands that people slow or stop their watering landscapes in urban areas altogether. Demanding homeowners stop watering their lawns or planting turf alone will not solve the water crisis. It will take a concerted effort to focus on the most significant opportunities to conserve. For example, in California last July, a drought emergency was declared, and Californians were asked to reduce urban water use in the state by 15% compared to 2020 levels. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, urban water use in the state only amounts to 10% of total water use. So a 15% reduction on 10% of the use amounts to less than a 2% reduction in the total amount of water used.

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Top Five Opportunities For Water Conservation

  1. The technology exists today to reduce ag water use dramatically. Soil moisture sensors connected to Jain Logic software show how deep water has penetrated the soil eliminating watering past the root zones of plants and trees, wasting water and nutrients. Satellite imagining combined with local sensors and evapotranspiration data is a reasonably priced solution every grower should be using, yet a large majority have not made the investment. Farmers are excellent businesspeople. Let’s take some of the $4 per square foot to remove turf dollars and reallocate them to incentives in agriculture to install drip irrigation and irrigation technology. $4 per square foot to remove turf totals $174,240 an acre. A much better investment would be to spread the $174K to 100 acres of agricultural land for technology and drip, and the water savings would be dramatically higher.
  1. Industrial water use totals around 22% of global consumption. A typical semiconductor plant uses 2 to 4 million gallons of pure water daily. There are no water use reporting standards for industrial water use. It isn’t easy to see what companies are doing well and which ones need improvement. Cell phones, cotton tee shirts, jeans, beer, and hamburgers, all take water to be produced. This is one of the best opportunities to save and one of the best opportunities for those companies conserving water to promote water-saving and their products simultaneously.
  1. A Stanford University study estimates that 20% -50% of water is lost to leaks in North America’s supply system. This is a number that is hard to comprehend. It makes the idea of not washing your car and not watering your lawn as often seem ridiculous when considering how much water could be saved by repairing the water infrastructure.
  1. An estimated 80% of the rainwater that falls in Southern California ends up diverting to the ocean. Cities need to invest more in rainwater harvesting, and more importantly, citizens need to step up and pay more taxes (less than $100 per person) to make this happen.
  1. The best way to get people to conserve water is to raise the price. However, the cost of water depends on its use. So it’s time to reassess how much we charge for commercial, urban, and ag water use and price accordingly to drive water conservation.

This list is not the only way to save, but the areas that will make the most significant difference in the shortest period of time. I encourage all of us to conserve appropriately in our personal lives, set good examples, and raise awareness. As consumers, we drive habits with our wallets, and we should be looking to purchase products from companies looking to save water. I’m sure you also have some additional ideas, and we would love to hear them in the comments section. If you enjoyed this article, please consider subscribing or following me on Twitter at H2oTrends.

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