Local Water Impacts Following Federal Plan For Colorado River Cuts

Carmela Karcher

Two of the biggest reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have lost 50% of capacity within the past five years.

And, it’s only getting worse.

Now, the Interior Department is proposing more solutions to help the dwindling river.

“This is the first proposal from the federal government and you’re talking about the money being behind it. So that is really going to be a game changer,” Public Information Officer with Imperial Irrigation District, Robert Schettler, said.

The proposal is to pay farmers and water districts as much as $400 per acre-foot of water to either fallow crops or find other ways to conserve, all to incentivize not drawing from the Colorado River.

One acre-foot would roughly provide water supplies to two households per year.

But for some areas, this could negatively impact the economy.

“Every six jobs in the Imperial Valley is directly related to agriculture,” Schettler explained. “So there’ll be job loss, or there’ll be negative ripple effects. If, for whatever reason, that one or two fallow land, take it out of production, they’ve got to be compensated in some way. Then so does  the economy too, because when farmland comes out of production, it hurts the economy.”

The Imperial Irrigation District, just east of the Coachella Valley, holds the lion’s share of rights to the river.

They say this is progress, but knowing 95% of their water goes to agriculture, they hope to find a compromise.

“There’s a couple of different ways of conserving water in Imperial Valley. The one that we want to promote the most is on farm conservation, because we’re gonna continue to farm,” Schettler said. “We really don’t want to take land out of production. So if we can continue to farm, and yet conserve water, there can be some funds that provide a way to do that. That’s awesome.”

For them, Colorado River water is liquid gold, making conservation that much more important.

“We have a crisis on the Colorado River,” Schettler shared. “If we stop farming to save water, then could we also be inviting a food crisis? That’s something to consider. That’s why it’s important to keep farming, but yet farm with less if we can. We have a pretty robust system on farm conservation already. We’re generating quite a bit through that. The next step is how much more can we do and what will it cost to get there?”

Make sure to tune in tomorrow where we hear from the farmers about their thoughts around this new conservation announcement.

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