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New Report on Colorado River Basin Solutions

Up here in Colorado, it’s been a great year for snow. So great, in fact, that it might be easy to forget the challenges facing the Colorado River, the lifeline for nearly 40 million people in the Southwest.  Severe drought conditions continue to plague much of the region; while additional threats are provided by climate change, and a governance framework that often pits state against state, city against farm. The river is in trouble, but solutions, outlined in this report, are within reach.

This week, Carpe Diem West released a report that can help us chart a course toward sustainability for farms, cities and the environment that depend on the Colorado River. Based on interviews with leaders from around the basin, “Mapping the River Ahead” helps all of us find a pathway to water security for the long term. The report is not a consensus document but a map of diverse opinions prioritizing some of the most promising, least expensive and most easily scaled solutions for the Colorado River Basin.

Two of the report’s themes stand out to us most clearly:

  1. The emphasis on the urgency of the crisis we face. The age of denial is over, and leaders up and down the river are now grasping that we must begin to address this crisis today. We are in uncharted territory, dealing with rapidly changing climatic conditions, facing a kind of vulnerability that is very new. So a new approach is also in order. Instead of thinking about how to “increase our supply,” when water will be in shorter and shorter supply, we can begin to think about making do with what we have.
  1. The focus on finding solutions to help both our family farms and our towns and cities. Agriculture uses over 70% of surface water in the Colorado River Basin. We can and should help farmers to use their water most efficiently, while focusing on solutions that preserve independent family farms and the rural economy. Farmers simply must be a central part of any effort to ensure water security–and food security–for our region. This report acknowledges that fact while putting forward flexible, voluntary solutions that will work to balance often-conflicting needs.

While we know there are innovative solutions working already, we don’t have a lot of time to scale them up. We are facing an increasingly urgent crisis up and down the river – for communities, for natural systems, and for farms. A big part of that scaling up process is broadening the conversation about the river and the people and natural systems that depend on it. This report helps move that conversation forward. With an informed, engaged public, we can find our way to a sustainable future in the Colorado River basin.

Doug Kenney is Director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado.

Kate Greenberg is the Western Organizer with the National Young Farmers Coalition. She is based in Durango, CO.

Originally published in Daily Camera on March 15, 2014.

3/20/14

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