Drought conditions, climate crisis spur calls for more efficient water infrastructure

By: - October 6, 2021 3:55 pm
water intake towers

“We will experience unavoidable reductions in farm water supplies and hydropower generation, ecosystem degradation, and urban areas will need to conserve water,” a Dept. of Interior official told a Senate panel. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Experts in government, agriculture, water management and the environment stressed during a U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday the danger that droughts fueled by climate change pose in the West, including the Colorado River Basin.

During a hearing before an Energy and Natural Resources Committee panel, witnesses said long-term solutions and an investment in water infrastructure are needed to combat the effects of climate change.

Tanya Trujillo, the assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior, said the $8.4 billion provided for the West in an infrastructure bill passed by the Senate would replace water infrastructure, which will prevent water from escaping. The bill also invests in technology that can capture water, she said.

Passage of that bill in the House remains tied to Democrats in Congress reaching an agreement on the larger social infrastructure package proposed by the Biden administration.

“We will experience unavoidable reductions in farm water supplies and hydropower generation, ecosystem degradation, and urban areas will need to conserve water,” Trujillo said. 

Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said that Arizona has been under a state of drought emergency since 1999.

“The past two decades of ongoing drought in the western United States, and in particular the Colorado River Basin, is challenging the seven Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as the Republic of Mexico, to meet the needs of the 40 million people and millions of acres of farmland that rely on the river,” he said in his opening statement.

Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly had requested a Senate hearing on the drought conditions along the Colorado River after water level projections for Lake Mead and Lake Powell were released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 

In August, BuRec officially declared the first-ever water shortage in the Colorado River Basin, triggering mandatory water cuts for Nevada next year. 

Jennifer Pitt, the Colorado River Program Director at the National Audubon Society, told the subcommittee that 30 tribes rely on the river.

“Climate change has come barging through the front doors of the Colorado basin,” Pitt said.

An August report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that for every 0.9 degree Fahrenheit the atmosphere warms, some regions will experience an increase in droughts, which can harm agriculture production and the ecosystem.

Droughts, exacerbated by climate change, will likely be more common by 2050, according to Yale Climate Connections, which is an initiative of the Yale Center for Environmental Communication. 

As of late September, the National Integrated Drought Information System—part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—has determined that more than 40 percent of the U.S., and nearly 48 percent of the lower states, are in drought. 

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Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.