This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The snows have returned to the Utah high country, but after 15 years of record-breaking drought the Colorado River and water in the Southwest remain critically challenged resources. As citizens of the West, among our most important challenges are how to use water efficiently, manage our water resources and keep our rivers, and the manifold benefits they provide, whole. We all have roles to play.
Known as the "hardest working river" in the West, the Colorado River supplies drinking water to over 40 million people and irrigates more than five million acres of land, growing 15 percent of our nation's crops. It's also a huge tourist draw, attracting millions of visitors and outdoor enthusiasts from around the globe, proving it to be an integral component of a western quality of life that helps businesses locate and grow here while attracting and retaining quality employees.
Yet, today, the Colorado River is in trouble. River flows and storage in Lakes Powell and Mead, the two largest reservoirs on the system, are all at record lows. Simply put, we are over budget on our use of water in the Southwest. Each year, the seven states in the Colorado River basin are using more water than our snow melt and rivers can provide up to two million acre feet more.
I run a Utah-based climbing equipment company, giving me a deep understanding of how our state's great outdoors and bountiful natural resources impact our economies, particularly in rural Utah. And we are only the tip of the iceberg. A recent Arizona State University revealed that the Colorado River system is responsible for more than $1.4 trillion in economic activity, $870 billion in wages and 16 million jobs annually. That's nearly two-thirds of the Southwest's economic value, dependent on the Colorado River.
Clearly, investing in programs that boost water conservation in the Colorado River basin is imperative for the health of the West. That's why I am working with Protect the Flows, a nonpartisan business coalition promoting water conservation, innovations and technologies, to support federal funding for innovative water management programs.
Working together, President Obama and the Congress must make drought response and resilience priorities. Support of programs capable of improving conditions throughout the Colorado River Basin is crucial programs that offer practical, affordable, common-sense solutions that can be implemented now.
We know conservation works. We know these programs work. In 2000, Utah set a goal of cutting water use by 25 percent by 2025. Here in 2016, many of our municipalities and water districts already approach or surpass that goal. Denver is using less water today than it did in 1973. Las Vegas uses less water today, with 400,000 new residents in the valley, than it did a decade ago.
We need to build on this momentum and protect our way of life. That is why we are asking our elected officials to:
• Boost funding for the WaterSMART programs, providing water efficiency grants, technical assistance and best practices to local governments and water districts.
• Validate the work of Congress by keeping Farm Bill conservation programs whole, allowing our farmers and ranchers to sustain critical water and land conservation efforts.
• Fund system resiliency and efficiencies, allowing water managers to move water and protect storage in lakes Powell and Mead.
• Support renewal of the landmark United States-Mexico agreement that allowed Mexico to store water in Lake Mead, boosting reservoir levels and forestalling federal water allocation protocols.
Businesses across the basin are stepping up in every way possible to make drought response and healthy river flows priorities. For us, smart water policy makes good business sense. We know it is in everyone's best interest and it's the right thing to do.
Nazz Kurth is president of Petzl America, a Salt Lake City-based manufacturer and retailer of climbing and sports equipment. Protect the Flows is a nonpartisan coalition of more than 1,200 businesses advancing water efficiencies, innovations and technologies, and healthy river flows in the Colorado River basin.