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Tough decisions ahead in Southwest water issues


Re: “The Colorado River is sending us a message,” Aug. 29 commentary

Gary Wockner’s column on the Colorado River focuses on Lake Powell and how climate change necessitates a reassessment of how that reservoir should be managed.

Clearly some very difficult decisions need to be made in view of the “new reality” of critically reduced river-flows in the Colorado River Basin.

One key element that Wockner did not mention is the amount of water lost through evaporation from Powell.

While the total evaporation loss varies with how much water is stored in the reservoir, estimates are that approximately 4% to 6% of the total flow of the Colorado River is lost. Clearly not an insignificant amount of water and an important factor to consider in deciding the fate of the reservoir.

We like to think that we are the masters of our own destiny, but there are times when, as Wockner points out, “nature is forcing our hand.”

Gene Reetz, Denver BBB

I enjoyed reading Gary Wockner’s opinion piece because I have been reading and teaching about Southwestern water stories for more than 25 years, especially the Colorado River and the Ogallala Aquifer.

While this opinion piece does a fine job of pointing out the complexity, the dilemma of a growing population and a dwindling water supply, it leaves the reader with a radical solution — drain Lake Powell.

Before we drain our reservoirs and give up the recreation and the cheap electricity they provide, the public, elected officials and the Bureau of Reclamation need to explore other options.

Why should farmers in Pinal County be planting high-water-use crops like cotton and corn? It’s southern Arizona! And will anyone have the courage to say “no” to irrigation systems that spray water endlessly into our dry skies, often in the daytime?

Irrigated farms and ranches in the Southwest use a great majority of the available water sources and, in dry years, even more.

Until farmers and ranchers learn to make do with less water, improve irrigation practices and stop growing crops that are better suited to Iowa or Illinois, we will see those reservoirs run dry. I know family ranchers who have gone “dryland” and do not irrigate, relying instead on unreliable rains and crop insurance.

As long as we live in a free, capitalist country with short election cycles, I fear that there will be no elected officials with the courage to take on big agriculture business and the growing number of corporate farms that gobble up family farms and/or their water rights.

Eric Schmidt, Littleton




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