Conservation News

Lower Basin States Announce Plan to Conserve the Colorado River

EDGEFIELD, S.C. — In late May, the governors of Arizona, California and Nevada made a significant announcement regarding the conservation of the Colorado River. This plan, developed by the Colorado River Lower Basin States, aims to safeguard the river and mitigate the effects of the ongoing drought.

By reducing water usage and implementing sustainable practices, the plan intends to conserve 3 million acre-feet of water over the next three years. In return for their commitment, cities, irrigation districts and Native American tribes in these states will receive federal funding. This agreement marks a positive step forward in addressing the overuse and challenges faced by the lower basin states.

The Colorado River is a vital resource in the western United States, serving seven states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. These states, along with numerous Native American tribes and communities, rely on the river for water supply, hydropower, recreation, fish and wildlife habitat, and various other benefits. However, the history of the Colorado River has been marred by issues stemming from overallocation and the impacts of climate change.

The Colorado River Compact, established in 1922, divided the river’s use among various stakeholders. Unfortunately, this division exceeded the river’s typical flow, leading to overallocation and overuse. In subsequent agreements, the overuse continued, aggravating the strain on the river’s resources. Compounding the issue is the escalating impact of climate change, which is exacerbating the basin’s heat and dryness, further reducing the water supply.

While there has been a decline in water supply from the upstream upper basin states over the past two decades, the lower basin states persist in consuming water at an unsustainable rate. On average, they use 1.2 million acre-feet more water than what they receive from the upper basin. This imbalance threatens the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River and necessitates collaborative efforts to rectify the situation.

One crucial aspect often overlooked in the discussion is the correlation between forest health and the hydrology of the Colorado River. The impact catastrophic wildfire has on both is immense, said Travis Smith, NWTF western water specialist.

The upper basin states play a significant role in maintaining the river’s water supply, making it essential to understand the connection between water resources and the health of forests in these regions. Devastating wildfires in Colorado and other states have led to adverse effects on snowpack, hydrologic conditions and runoff. These events impact water quality during active burning and have lasting consequences for months, or even years, after containment.

To promote healthier forests and enhance water quality and quantity, the NWTF has implemented large-scale landscape wildfire mitigation efforts through shared stewardship agreements, such as the 20-year national master stewardship agreement with the USDA Forest Service and the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative to address this pressing issue.

“The NWTF recognizes the strong connection of our landscape-scale conservation work and downstream water supplies for people, places and wild turkeys,” Smith said.

Understanding the relationship between forest health and water resources is essential for preserving the long-term viability of the Colorado River. By implementing shared stewardship initiatives, stakeholders are taking vital steps to secure the future of this critical water source in the West.

Learn more about the NWTF’s conservation initiatives, and find out how you can get involved.

About the National Wild Turkey Federation

Since 1973, the National Wild Turkey Federation has invested over half a billion dollars into wildlife conservation and has conserved or enhanced over 22 million acres of critical wildlife habitat. The organization continues to drive wildlife conservation, forest resiliency and robust recreational opportunities throughout the U.S. by working across boundaries on a landscape scale.

2023 is the NWTF’s 50 th anniversary and an opportunity to propel the organization’s mission into the future while honoring its rich history. For its 50 th anniversary, the NWTF has set six ambitious goals: positively impact 1 million acres of wildlife habitat; raise $500,000 for wild turkey research; increase membership to 250,000 members; dedicate $1 million to education and outreach programs; raise $5 million to invest in technology and NWTF’s people; and raise $5 million to build toward a $50 million endowment for the future.  Learn how you can help us reach these lofty goals.

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