Where were you on July 25th?
Perhaps you were throwing a gala event to celebrate Colorado River Day, complete with a selection of vegetables, fruits, meats – and even beer – that would not be available without water from the Colorado River. Maybe you’re still recovering from attending so many Colorado River Day parties…
Okay, so you probably weren’t awash in merriment over the Colorado River on July 25th. After all, this year is only the second official Colorado River Day, recognizing the date in 1921 when Congress re-named the “Grand River” to “The Colorado.”
The Colorado and its tributaries provide drinking water to more than 36 million people in seven states, a region collectively known as the Colorado River Basin. Most of the Basin residents have little idea where their water comes from, but Arizonans have always had a keen understanding of water needs and the vital role of the region’s mightiest river.
A full 85% of the irrigated agricultural land in Arizona depends on the Colorado River. Basin-wide, the river waters 15% of America’s crops, and it is critical for most of the region’s livestock. From meat and milk, to vegetables and grains, your plate is full only because of the Colorado River.
Today, July 25th, is Colorado River Day because on this day in 1921 Congress re-named the river from the “Grand” to the “Colorado”.
Colorado River Day this year is focused on uniting urban and rural interests in efforts to sustain the river.
“Agriculture is essential to the economy and way of life in the west, but it wouldn’t be possible without a healthy Colorado River. A collaborative effort to improve efficiency and conservation opportunities is the first and best step to protecting the river. ” – National Young Farmers Coalition
Practically everything we eat in the West is grown with water from the Colorado River. The river irrigates an astounding 15% of our nations crops, and supplies water to over 36 million people in 7 states.
Below is a list of some fruits and vegetables that are irrigated with water from the Colorado River:
- Crisphead Lettuce
- Leaf Lettuce
- Bell Peppers
- Sugar Beets
This is list is just the tip of the iceberg lettuce though! Items like wine, beef and grains are also often reliant on the river. High Country Orchards and Vineyards in Palisades, Colo. grow wine grapes with water from the Colorado to make Colterris wine. Watch this short video to learn more.
Join in the Colorado River Day fun by tweeting your favorite foods that are on your plate because of the #coriver. Use the hashtag #riversalad to join the conversation.
Find out more about Colorado River Day at http://coloradoriverday.com/
Photo Credits: 4028mdk09, Liftarn, avid.Monniaux, Colin, Killiondude, Khamtran, (Magnus Manske), Lobo
The Senate Water and Power Subcommittee is holding a hearing today to discuss the future of one of the West’s most critical natural resources – the Colorado River. WATCH a live web stream of the hearing here: http://wradv.org/15j9aJ5 or follow us on Twitter @wradv to get updates.
Water projects are expensive; in fact, very expensive. In the last few years, western water utilities, cities, state agencies, and private developers have proposed a bevy of expensive new water projects: the Lake Powell Pipeline in Utah (estimated at $1.2 billion), the Flaming Gorge Pipeline in Wyoming and Colorado (upwards of $7 billion), the Southern Delivery System in Colorado (now under construction, and expected to cost approximately $1.5 billion), and the Carlsbad Desalination Plant in California (nearly $1 billion), to name a few. These projects will impact customers’ water rates and connection fees. In the case of Colorado Springs, for example, the city council approved two years of 40% rate increases, followed by four years of 12% rate increases.
Why would water utilities pursue expensive new infrastructure projects when opportunities to conserve water are ample and generally cheaper than new infrastructure?
In their new report, “Drinking Water Infrastructure: Who Pays and How (and for What?)”, American Rivers provides an overview of the short-term financial barriers or disincentives for pursuing conservation as well as the long-term benefits and costs savings. For example, utilities need revenue stability, particularly to cover their short-term fixed costs such as debt service on infrastructure repairs or upgrades made in the past. For most utilities, conservation means selling less water; if a utility’s revenue stream drops significantly, it may have to increase rates. The financial benefits of conservation, in contrast, are long-term, because they reduce or delay the need to build new infrastructure, and future debts.
The second key barrier noted in the report is that most utilities have to finance conservation with cash. Utilities can finance new infrastructure and supply projects through bonds, which spread the cost of an investment over 30 to 40 years (much like a home mortgage). Most states, however, do not allow publicly-financed bonds to be used to benefit a private entity, such as a customer who receives a rebate for an efficient toilet or irrigation system.
Despite these barriers, some utilities and states have found creative ways to finance conservation. For example, in Washington and Oregon, voters passed ballot initiatives allowing utilities to bond finance conservation. And in Santa Fe, developers can either 1) purchase water rights on the market to meet the water needs of new developments, or 2) pay into a “Conserved Water Bank”, which the city uses to fund conservation efforts.
The report offers a primer on financing conservation and other topics, such as how water utilities design rate structures, the financing of new supply projects, and the risks entailed in expensive new infrastructure. It is an essential tool for advocates – as we become more informed about the challenges to financing conservation and sustainable water supply development, we also become more effective in finding creative solutions to these challenges.
Western Resource Advocates contributed to and helped review a new report by American Rivers that aims to raise the familiarity of water and community advocates with the means by which drinking water utilities finance new infrastructure projects.
The guide, released today, is intended to acquaint advocates with the financing practices and imperatives that define drinking water management today. It can be used to prepare for engagement with drinking water utilities, the city councils that set water rates and the State Revolving Fund administrators that help to finance water infrastructure. And it can be used by advocates of all different stripes—environmental, affordability and taxpayer advocates—to strategize collaboration with water utilities.
The guide should help advocates understand not only how to be more effectively engaged as proponents of sustainable drinking water systems by covering basic information about bond financing of drinking water infrastructure and related topics such as:
How Do Water Systems Pay for Infrastructure?
What Risks Come Along With Financing Water Infrastructure?
Why Don’t Water Systems Put Conservation First?
How Should Water Systems Structure Their Rates?
How Do Water Systems Pay for Conservation?
How Do We Balance Conservation and Affordability?
How Do We Build Support for Conservation?
Download the guide here: www.americanrivers.org/advocateguide