The recent news that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plans on restricting water allocation from the Colorado River highlight the looming crisis in the North American west and across the globe.
The megadrought in the west pushes climate change ever closer to catastrophe and disruption, whether from wildfire, extreme heat, or a lack of water.
The expanding water shortages in the west set the stage for a “decade of drought politics. A recent Bloomberg article argues how the expanding water shortages in the west “set the stage” for a “bitter legal and political fight” over water. Will the coming battles be waged between farmers and urban dwellers, states, and even countries?
As the flow of water off the Colorado River and across the west continue to diminish, all the above actors must vie for their “fair share.” One actor often left out of these considerations is the river itself, to everyone’s detriment. This disregard extends far beyond the Colorado. What is often overlooked is the “right of water to remain in streams to sustain fish and endangered species,” writes Bobby Magill in Bloomberg.
Water lawyer Buzz Thompson, quoted in the article, explains that as the drought persists, “flows set aside for the environment are likely to be the first to lose.”
“As a result, you see environmental groups and others who favor in-stream flows working on trying to accord environmental water the same degree of security as other water,” said Thompson.
And there’s the rub.
The contest between human demand and environmental health isn’t new. It isn’t going away anytime soon. As the cliché goes, water is life.
Californians are familiar with the plight of the delta smelt, a tiny, threatened fish found in the agricultural epicenter of California’s Central Valley. Farmers need water to grow their crops. The smelt needs water to survive.
Save the Environment to Save Ourselves
We are only beginning our journey in a climate-changed world, where global resources are increasingly constrained. The water shortages in the west and elsewhere are a stark wake-up call into the fragility of our place on this planet and the peril of ignoring that reality.
It is also an opportunity to reaffirm our connection and dependence on the resources of the planet. The road ahead is a difficult one. In a politically divided, income disparate, conflicted world, we thrive or perish on how well we work together to meet the challenges we face—most of which we have brought on ourselves.
The byproduct of “saving the environment” is saving humanity.
Image courtesy of Wouter de Jong on Pexals