This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Most of my life has been deeply connected to the Colorado River. In 1983 my family gathered at my aunt and uncle's house to move all their belongings as the river slowly rose past their doorstep. Milder summers were spent on the banks of the river fishing or panning for gold.
When we had to move from Moab to Price because the Atlas Mine closed for good, we lived next to the Price River, which drains into the Green and eventually the Colorado. In high school in Moab I went on my first rafting trip, which began my journey to becoming a rafting guide as an adult. Now I take hundreds of people a year down the Green, Colorado and San Juan rivers, hoping to give them a taste of what I find so irresistible about my country.
The Colorado River Basin a system of rivers that spans seven Western states is not just running water. According to a recent report by Protect the Flows, a coalition of businesses whose bottom lines depend upon the Colorado, Utah draws $2 billion in direct spending from tourists who flock to these rivers each year. These visits keep our local businesses afloat and help replenish our federal, state and local treasuries with $428 million every year. River-related tourism also means 34,100 river-related jobs for Utah.
Clearly, the Colorado River is good business for Utah. However, years of drought and rising consumption have taken their toll, reducing the level of total water storage by 40 percent in the last 13 years.
Lake Powell is water storage for the Lower Basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California, and, because we're upstream and control the faucet, we can stop the reservoir from running dry, right? Wrong, because water allocations in the basin are controlled by the date, not the placement, of the allocation, which means the Lower Basin States can demand their full allocation from the Upper Basin.
According to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, these agreements must be honored even if we don't get the flows we were expecting to refill our reservoir. This leads to that infamous "bathtub ring" on Lake Powell.
Our state's economy will be greatly affected by how we deal with this problem. Right now, the Bureau of Reclamation, with representatives from the seven Basin states, is reviewing water supply and demand imbalances in the Colorado River Basin. They are expected to issue a report by the end of 2012 that will assess options for balancing supply and demand over the next 50 years.
The federal and state governments must work to find ways to protect the health of the river for the businesses that rely on it, while also providing water to everyone from alfalfa growers in Garfield County to the suburbs of Salt Lake City – at an affordable price.
Solutions being considered include greater urban conservation measures, improving agricultural efficiency and encouraging water banking. These are practical, cost-effective measures that are politically viable and thus more likely to be implemented in the near term.
The study is also weighing costly options, including building multi-billion-dollar pipelines from the drought-stricken Mississippi River, and shipping water from Alaska to California. With $2 billion and 34,100 jobs at stake in Utah, the BOR and the seven states must implement smart and realistic measures for maintaining a healthy flow of water.
It's up to them to ensure economic prosperity for our state for many summer vacations to come.
Sarah Sidwell is a board member of the Moab Chamber of Commerce and sales and marketing director for Tag-a-Long Expedition. Protect the Flows is a coalition of more than 370 small businesses from the seven Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, California and Utah.