National Public Radio’s environmental reporter Abrahm Lustgarten investigates the history of the Colorado River water allocations and finds that bad policy is as much to blame as drought and climate change for the current shortages:
Lustgarten says conservation and increased efficiency in farming could reintroduce enormous quantities of water back into the Colorado River system. By Lustgarten’s estimate, if Arizona farmers switched from growing cotton to growing wheat, it would save enough water to supply about 1.4 million people with water each year.
But, Lustgarten adds, “There’s nothing really more politically touchy in the West than water and the prospect of taking away people’s water rights. So what you have when you talk about increasing efficiency or reapportioning water is essentially an argument between those who have it, which are the farmers and the people who have been on that land for generations, and those who don’t, which are the cities who are relative newcomers to the area.”
Notably, the area features one of the country’s largest coal-fired power plant at the Navajo Generating Station, dedicated almost exclusively to moving water around the Colorado River states. So the drought and water situation affects our energy supply and related pollution as much as anything. Re-examination of water rights, coupled with better financing mechanisms and rate structures, could therefore go a long way to solving both the water shortages and pollution from energy generation.