August 16, 2016--Partnering to save the Colorado (Casa Grande Dispatch)

The Colorado River provides 40 percent of Arizona’s total water supply. As we experience ongoing drought here in Arizona and across the Colorado River Basin, farmers and ranchers have an important role to play in pushing for collaborative solutions that sustain the river. Right now, there is a “structural water deficit” in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River, which includes Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico. What this means is that more river water is used annually in these states and Mexico than the amount of Colorado River water available to the Lower Basin. We are overdrawing our water account. This is the reason for the growing “bathtub ring” around Lake Mead. These challenges to the mighty Colorado pose serious risks to everyone and everything that depends on the river — from agriculture to our cities to fish and wildlife to small businesses. And we can do something about it. The Family Farm Alliance is one of several agricultural organizations that called for new investment and collaboration between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program. In response, news came last month of new inter-agency collaboration in the Colorado River Basin and other watersheds. Reclamation will work with irrigation districts, helping to upgrade infrastructure and improve overall efficiency in delivering water to farmers while NRCS works with individual farming and ranching operators to make more efficient use of the water delivered.

Many Western water users employ WaterSMART grants and EQIP funds to address water quantity and quality challenges, and I appreciate the improved coordination that this administration is employing to make those programs work better. In fact, the renewed commitment to coordination between NRCS and Reclamation advances the philosophy embodied in the Bush-era “Bridging the Headgates” memorandum of understanding that emphasized technical support from these same federal agencies in a comprehensive manner. This is a fine example of how good ideas can transcend politics, and it underscores that the only solutions lasting beyond the latest and greatest funding program are those that are collaborative in nature, that rise from the bottom-up, with input and support from those most directly impacted. There is no single, “silver bullet” solution to Western water resources challenges. Rather, a successful water shortage strategy must include a “portfolio” of water supply enhancements and improvements, such as water reuse, recycling, conservation, water-sensitive land use planning and water system improvements. We need to shore up the system and do more voluntary, compensated demand management that creates system water for Lake Mead, which Arizona depends on. To view the full article visit the Casa Grande Dispatch.