Friday, May 13, 2011

Running Dry

I am from the United States (I thought I'd get that right out in the open), and hail from the arid state of New Mexico. The southwestern states are a fascinating, albeit nerve-racking, region to follow water planning- mostly because there is just not enough of that precious resource.

This article, posted on Circle of Blue a few months ago, reviews the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA). It provides a great review of the complexity of water issues in the southwest. The discussions and actions of this group will be crucial to follow, the ideas and solutions generated out of the planning process can inform water management world wide, especially as drought predictions creep into regions which may not be prepared.

A few thoughts (hoping for discussion!)

I am an advocate for demand side management (this kind of demand-side management), but somehow it seems demand side management has been interpreted as moving water from farms to cities. Is it a good decision to dry up our farms and accommodate growth in our cities? No farms No food, after all. I wouldn't say that this solution is all bad, if carefully thought through, implemented, and regulated, water leasing could be beneficial to all. But, the general concept seems like a slippery slope.

Though I must say that even this questionable demand-side approach beats the supply-side approach that is looming. The CRWUA did a study on augmenting the Colorado River which included mechanisms like cloud seeding, laying miles of pipe from oceans or other basins, and desalination to address supply shortfalls. Increasing the pie seems like a band-aid-to-a-bullet-wound type of solution.

If the southwestern states continue to grow, will we then continuously find new ways to augment our rivers? Where will the water come from and what are the global ramifications of this kind of modification to a complex and interconnected system?

Included in the river augmentation study are some low-tech conservation oriented solutions such as water reuse and vegetation management. They are simpler and more cost effective. Perhaps the fundamental change we need is the immediate implementation of these types of solutions with a serious evaluation of our growing consumptive use patterns.

I really look forward to seeing the results of the Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study (with some inevitable fears and anxieties, of course).

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