Environment

How the Lower Colorado Shows What's Really at Stake for America's Rivers as Trump Rolls Back Protections

By starving key federal conservation initiatives, President Trump's budget threatens rivers and communities nationwide.

Morelos Dam, Lower Colorado River
Photo Credit: Justin Clifton/American Rivers

This is a critical year for the rivers that sustain us, and a new report, America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2017 sounds the alarm. Released today by the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers, the annual report identifies 10 rivers facing urgent threats and critical decisions in the coming year. This year’s list highlights the dangers Trump administration budget cuts pose to rivers and communities nationwide.

Number one on this year’s list is the Lower Colorado River, where the communities, economy, and natural resources of the southwestern U.S. will be threatened if the Trump administration and Congress don’t prioritize and fund innovative water management solutions.

The Lower Colorado provides drinking water for 30 million Americans, irrigates fields that grow 90 percent of our nation’s winter vegetables and slakes the thirst of growing cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix. But the water demands of Arizona, Nevada and California are outstripping supply and the river is at a breaking point. Scientists predict climate change will reduce the Colorado River’s flow by 10 to 30 percent by 2050. The Bureau of Reclamation may be forced to cut water deliveries in the next two years, with severe economic impacts to farms and cities across Arizona, Nevada and California.

Map of the lower Colorado by artist Sarah Uhl.

Prioritizing innovative water management solutions and ensuring reliable, secure water supplies should be bipartisan issues. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget proposal threatens to reverse progress made under the Bush and Obama administrations to reduce water consumption across the three states.

The future of the Lower Colorado River is of particular importance to the region’s Latino communities. One-third of our nation’s Latinos live in the Colorado River Basin. The significance of the river to the faith, livelihood and future of hard-working Latino farm families is showcased in the new film Milk and Honey, produced by American Rivers and the Hispanic Access Foundation.

The Lower Colorado irrigates fields that grow 90 percent of our nation’s winter vegetables. (image: Amy Martin)

“The Lower Colorado River is an integral part of our heritage and way of life,” says Maite Arce, president and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation. “From serving as the backbone for the agricultural industry to providing a cultural focal point for faith communities, the Lower Colorado River is essential to the livelihood of the Southwest. By taking action now we can make strides in ensuring that future generations can continue to benefit from this tremendous resource.”

With the listing of the Lower Colorado River, American Rivers and HAF are calling on Congress and the Trump administration to provide support, leadership and financial resources for innovative measures already underway to conserve and share the region’s water assets.

The Lower Colorado illustrates what’s at stake for rivers nationwide when it comes to climate change and the threats posed by the Trump Administration.

President Trump’s executive orders rolling back protections for small streams and wetlands and reversing progress in addressing climate change threaten all of our nation’s rivers. His budget cuts would harm rivers nationwide, including those on this year’s Most Endangered list. Cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency could undermine regulation of pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations like those on the Neuse-Cape Fear in North Carolina and the Buffalo National River in Arkansas.

Virtually zeroing out the Land and Water Conservation Fund would eliminate opportunities such as the conservation purchases that have helped protect Washington’s Green River.

Dramatic cuts to the Department of the Interior likely would foreclose any opportunity to adequately fund the proper planning, management, and protection of the neglected Wild and Scenic Rivers System, including the Buffalo National River and Montana’s Middle Fork Flathead—a sorry state of affairs as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act approaches its 50th anniversary in 2018.

Water is one of the most crucial conservation issues of our time. By starving key federal conservation initiatives, President Trump’s budget will leave communities thirsty nationwide.

Americans must speak up and let their elected officials know that healthy rivers are essential to our families, our communities and our future. We must take care of the rivers that take care of us.

Bob Irvin is the president and CEO of American Rivers, a national river conservation nonprofit organization.

 

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