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How A Historical Blunder Helped Create The Water Crisis In The West


Stashed in: History!, Awesome, California, Water!, Colorado, Arizona, Climate Change!, Nuts!

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When you divide up a resource, it's good to have the numbers add up to 100% or less. Not so good when the percentages add up to more than 100%! Amazing that this has been going on almost a century yet the error has not been fixed.

This is ridiculous:

In 1922, seven Western states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and California — drew up an agreement on how to divide the waters of the Colorado River. But there was one big problem with the plan: They overestimated how much water the river could provide.

As a result, each state was promised more water than actually exists. This miscalculation — and the subsequent mismanagement of water resources in those states — has created a water crisis that now affects nearly 40 million Americans.

Our problem is a political problem, not a climate problem:

Environmental reporter Abrahm Lustgarten began investigating the water crisis a year and a half ago for the ProPublica series Killing the Colorado. He tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that he initially thought the water crisis was the result of climate change or drought. Instead, Lustgarten says, "It's the policy and the management that seem to be having a greater effect than the climate."

Lustgarten says conservation and increased efficiency in farming could reintroduce enormous quantities of water back into the Colorado River system. By Lustgarten's estimate, if Arizona farmers switched from growing cotton to growing wheat, it would save enough water to supply about 1.4 million people with water each year.

But, Lustgarten adds, "There's nothing really more politically touchy in the West than water and the prospect of taking away people's water rights. So what you have when you talk about increasing efficiency or reapportioning water is essentially an argument between those who have it, which are the farmers and the people who have been on that land for generations, and those who don't, which are the cities who are relative newcomers to the area."

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