Water quality, supply of Colorado River examined in Senate subcommittee

The Senate Water and Power Subcommittee held a hearing on July 16 to discuss the quality and future of the Colorado River.

WASHINGTON, DC, July 17, 2013 -- The Senate Water and Power Subcommittee held a hearing on July 16 to discuss the future of the Colorado River -- one of the nation's most critical natural resources. The hearing came on the heels of recent deadly wildfires, a record-breaking heat wave and worsening drought conditions in the Southwest that have put the region's residents, wildlife and natural resources at risk.

The Subcommittee examined the Bureau of Reclamation's Colorado River Basin Water Demand and Supply Study, which provides an important look at the costs and benefits of a range of proposals to ensure the region has enough water to support its economy, environment and quality of life.

According to the study, released in December, there is not enough water in the Colorado River to meet the basin's current water demands, let alone support future demand increases. The study also concluded that climate change will reduce water available from the Colorado River by 9 percent, increasing the risk to cities, farms and the environment. Studies by independent scientists suggest that the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River’s flow could be dramatically higher.

"This study serves as a call to action and underscores the importance of prioritizing innovative conservation solutions rather than resorting to costly pipelines, dams and other diversions," said Matt Niemerski, water policy director at American Rivers. "We need to step up our efforts and manage our water wisely in order to meet the current and future needs in the basin."

American Rivers recently named the Colorado River the nation's Most Endangered River for 2013, citing outdated water management policies that allow an unsustainable amount of water to be taken out of the river for residential, industrial and agricultural uses.

Thirty-six million people from Denver to Los Angeles drink Colorado River water. The river irrigates nearly four million acres of land, which grows 15 percent of the nation’s crops. Over-allocation and drought have placed significant stress on water supplies and river health, and the basin is facing another severe drought this summer. Lower river flows threaten endangered fish and wildlife, along with the $26 billion dollar recreation economy that relies on the Colorado River.

Without healthy rivers, the region's economic vitality and its rich natural heritage are at risk. Drought sets the stage for conflict between water users. But the Basin Study seeks a path where municipalities and the agricultural and environmental communities can find practical solutions to the water supply and demand challenge.

The Bureau of Reclamation has established three working groups made up of diverse stakeholders from across the Basin as part of a "next steps" process to identify solutions to protect the Colorado River and address future water challenges. The working groups focus on municipal water conservation, agricultural conservation and maintaining healthy flows for a healthy environment.

"The Colorado River is the most important source of clean drinking water in the West and brings in $26 billion in annual revenue for water-related recreation. We must protect this national treasure," said Bart Miller, water program director for Western Resource Advocates. "We support the Bureau of Reclamation's 'next steps' process for the Basin Study -- finding a way to meet our region's future water demands by implementing smart, cost-effective, long-term solutions like water conservation."

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