Happy Colorado River Day!

My first exposure to the Colorado River was as a kid.  I was very fortunate to take a two week white water rafting trip down the Colorado River with my family.  To this day it is the best vacation that I have ever taken. Experiencing this amazing natural wonder so intimately was the adventure of a lifetime.

Fast-forward to now, when, as a resident of Southern California, I rely on the Colorado River each and every day.  Angelenos are among the 20 million Californians who depend upon the Colorado River for at least a portion of their drinking water.  Most of the California-grown vegetables we eat are irrigated with Colorado River water.  Unfortunately, demand on the river’s water now exceeds supply, which is depleting both river flow and bringing water stored in reservoirs to historic lows. 

There is currently considerable “buzz” around the Bay Delta — and rightly so.  This system is under enormous pressure.  The draft Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) was recently released, which is the state’s strategy for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Bay Delta system that aims to ensure a more reliable water supply and a healthy ecosystem.  Of note, many environmental groups have raised concerns over the draft BDCP and have provided counter-proposals.  The Colorado River provides roughly the same amount of water for urban Southern California as does the Bay-Delta, and both systems are under intense pressures. Yet the Colorado receives much less attention in California than the Bay-Delta receives.  Colorado River Day provides an opportunity to reflect and give the much needed attention to the Colorado River system.   

Heal the Bay has long advocated for maximizing our local water supplies, thereby decreasing our region’s need for imported water and relieving pressure on these over-taxed river systems.  At the same time, focusing on local water helps us improve the water quality in our rivers and ocean.  For instance by infiltrating stormwater into groundwater basins, we increase our local water supply and prevent polluted stormwater runoff.  By increasing the recycling of treated wastewater, we offset the need for imported water and reduce discharge to our rivers and streams.   Further, increasing our local water supply will save ratepayers money over generations.  Los Angeles Department of Water and Power drafted cost comparison models that show the cost of Metropolitan Water District imported water will eclipse the cost of conserved water in 2015, groundwater cleanup for recharge in 2022, reclaimed waste water in 2028, and reused stormwater in 2029.[1] In other words, investing in local water is a win-win scenario.    

I hope to take another river trip down the Colorado someday.  I recently learned that the Colorado River supports a $26 billion recreation economy!  However, we Californians need to make some serious changes in our reliance on imported water to ensure that this precious resource is protected and visitors and wildlife can enjoy this resource in perpetuity.  Let’s use Colorado River Day as an opportunity to ask our leaders to take the steps necessary to make sure this becomes a reality.

 — Kirsten James
Science and Policy Director, Water Quality

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[1] LADWP, Local Water Supply Sensitivities, November 2011.