The Colorado River has had a good month! And for that, in part, we need to publicly and loudly recognize the work of U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and the role he has played in protecting and restoring the Colorado River as well as in ringing the alarm bells about the future threats to the river.
First, Secretary Salazar met with an international assembly of officials in San Diego on November 20th to sign the “Bi-National Agreement” with Mexico concerning the future of the Colorado River. This agreement provides better water supply security for both the U.S. and Mexico, but also begins a process to restore a small streamflow to the Colorado River Delta. For over a decade, the entire contents of the Colorado River – over 5 trillion gallons of water per year – have been drained out by cities and farms across the river basin, leaving the river bone dry and no longer reaching the Gulf of California at its delta. The Colorado River Delta used to be a 2 million acre wetland and critical feeding ground for migratory boards in North America, as well as supporting a local fishing economy and habitat for endangered species. This new agreement with Mexico will begin to heal that environmental destruction. You can read more about the agreement in this New York Times article here.
The Save The Colorado River campaign, and its allies, Protect The Flows and Nuestro Rio, helped get 15,500 signatures on a “Thank You” petition to Secretary Salazar to recognize his leadership in helping to restore the Colorado River Delta. We also placed online ads in the Washington Post recognizing his leadership and pointing visitors to the Thank You petition. On Dec. 13th, we hand-delivered that thank you petition and signatures to Secretary Salazar to show our gratitude and support for his work. Thank You Secretary Salazar!
At the same time Secretary Salazar was signing the agreement with Mexico, another initiative he has supported has moved forward, that of restoring flood flows to the Grand Canyon to help heal the ecological damage to sand bars and fish habitat in the Colorado River. On November 19th, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation opened the gates at Glen Canyon Dam and let a large pulsing flood flow through the Grand Canyon for three days. Since 1996 — due to legal challenges from environmental groups — this is the 4th flood flow release the Department of Interior has authorized.
The flood flow is an effort to correct the ecological damage done by Glen Canyon Dam which traps about 90% of the sediment that naturally flows down the Colorado River. Prior to the dam, that sediment provided for sand bars, streamside habitat for many species, and the brown color in the river itself in which fish species evolved. Without the sediment, beaches have continued to retreat and native fish species have continued to be eaten by non-natives that thrive in the clear, cold, post-dam water. As reported in NBC News, the 3-day flood appears to have been successful and beach restoration has occurred. Again, Thank You Secretary Salazar!
Finally, on Dec. 13th, the long-awaited “Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study” was released. This study attempts to find a way to balance the future supply and demand of water throughout the Colorado River basin, which will be a very difficult task – about 30 million people currently use the river’s water for homes and businesses, and the river grows crops in Southern California that feed the entire nation. Because the river is already dry, and because population growth and climate change are occurring, the river’s health will likely only get worse.
A few months ago, Save The Colorado ran another petition, this time asking Secretary Salazar to focus on water conservation and efficiency in this study — we need to quit wasting water, quit drenching lawns, quit building sprawling suburbs, and learn how to more efficiently grow crops. We gathered another 26,000 signature on this petition, and also delivered that message to Secretary Salazar.
As the study was released last week, we were happy to see Secretary Salazar make some very strong statements focusing on conservation and efficiency instead of exorbitant pipeline schemes. He used the study to highlight a “Call To Action” to focus on practical solutions. The Denver Post quoted Salazar: “We need to reduce our demand. We also need to look at increasing our water supply through practical, doable, common sense measures such as re-use.”
In fact, as noted in the Albuquerque Journal, the study shows that “among the major possible solutions to the problem, conservation would be the cheapest and the quickest to implement:
- Ocean desalination:$1,500 to $2,100 per acre foot of water, 15 to years to see first water
- Missouri River pipeline: $1,700 – $2,300 per acre foot, 30 years to first water
- Towing icebergs down from Alaska: $2,700 – $3,400 per acre foot, 15 years to first water
- Municipal conservation – $500 – $900 per acre foot, 5 years to first water
- Agricultural conservation – $150 – $750 per acre foot, 10 years to first water”
Although the Colorado River’s challenges are increasing, the last month was a good month for the river, and much of that positive energy and outcome was due to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.
Once more, Thank You, Secretary Salazar!