Lake Mead is shrinking. Last seen full in 1983, a 157 foot “bathtub ring” of salty white mineral deposits is the visible record of a slowly unfolding crisis. For the first time ever, federal officials have declared an emergency water shortage for the Colorado River. Nevada’s water cuts will take effect on January 1, 2022. Extended droughts, extreme temperatures, and chronic overuse of the Colorado river basin require our attention. It’s a wakeup call to change the country’s reckless relationship with desert water. Policymakers, farmers, and 40 million residents who depend on the Colorado River must find ways to use less.
A common thread throughout history is the persistent belief that nature can be conquered. Such hubris has emboldened those in power to harness and exploit great Western rivers. Unsustainable water diversions along the Colorado River began in the late 1800s to irrigate crops hundreds of miles away. In an effort to “reclaim” the river, federal and state officials established the Colorado River Compact of 1922. It was an unusually wet year, and water was over-allocated from the onset. The compact divided the river between seven states, and Mexico was added later. The West has been overdrawing on the mighty river ever since.
The first tier of federal emergency cuts affect Nevada, Arizona and Mexico. Allocated just 2 percent of the river’s water, Nevada will reduce its supply by 7 percent, a meager 0.14 percent savings for the Colorado River….