Global warming and increased demand for water by urban and municipal users make shortages of the Colorado River inevitable, according to a recently-released study by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states.
Population growth in the study area, expected to increase from about 40 million to anywhere between 49.3 million and 76.3 million, is expected to drive the projected increase in demand for water by the municipal and industrial sectors. The publication of the report preceded the water leaders and policy makers’ annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association in Las Vegas. While the report outlines various methods that address shortfalls on the Colorado River — from desalination to conservation to water banking — some worry that the agricultural community will be expected to bear most of the burden imposed by shortages.
“You are pitting (urban) populations against agriculture,” said Imperial Irrigation District Director Matt Dessert, when asked what he took away from the conference. Anticipated water shortages make the agricultural community’s pool of water increasingly attractive, he added.
“They’re going to continue to look at ag areas and areas that have water to be squeezed (for more water),” he said.
IID Director Steve Benson echoed Dessert’s sentiments.
With the agriculture sector using some 70 to 90 percent of the Colorado River’s water, he said, the agricultural community is going to have to come up with a big portion of water (for other users).
“It’s important that farmers work on conservation based on current contracts with the QSA,” he added. “It’s not perfect but it lays out a clear plan. If we show we’re working under the guidelines of conservation as farmers, it does a lot to protect the future of farming.”
Minute 319, the U.S.-Mexico water pact signed in November, was a focal point at the conference, Dessert said.
The five-year pilot project ties Mexico’s delivery of Colorado River water to environmental conditions like surplus and droughts. It also allows American entities to invest in Mexico’s earthquake-damaged water infrastructure and conservation measures in return for some of its water. Voicing its disapproval with a resolution that did not offer the IID some of this water — as well as other concerns — the IID Board of Directors deadlocked on the vote, keeping the district out of the deal.
However, representatives of the federal government and the IID are still speaking.
IID officials met with officials from the Department of the Interior at the conference, said IID Director Norma Sierra Galindo.
“They prefaced the meeting by saying that Minute 319 is not a static document. It can be revisited and revised,” she said. But how the IID can be involved is not yet clear, she added.
Benson said that, ultimately, the IID will have to be involved in the pact.
“We’re going to be a part (of Minute 319) whether we like it or not because of the All-American Canal,” he said.
Minute 319 stipulates the construction of a turn-out on the All-American Canal which will direct water to Mexico. The IID operates the canal. The district also has the largest apportionment of the Colorado River’s water, and it borders Mexico. It is paramount, he added, to ensure the district gets a fair share of Mexico’s intentionally-created surplus water, water that will be available through the binational pact.
The CRWUA conference was, ultimately, just one conference. Most of the real work will be conducted in meetings, boardrooms, and sometimes through litigation. But between what was said and left unsaid, and the stark message of the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, the message that IID officials may be taking away is that they need to be protective of the district’s resources.
“The issue with water is paramount,” Galindo said. “Is there going to be a shortage? Absolutely. I want to ensure our farmers and cities are heard, that they are the key players.”
Staff writer Antoine Abou-Diwan can be reached at 760-337-3454 or email@example.com
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