Much has been written this week about a new agreement over how California, Nevada and Arizona will divide their allotment of water from the Colorado River. After a big ballyhoo and a promise to cut water usage by 13% we learn they are just pausing negotiations now while preparing for the mother of all water fights coming in 2026.
A lot can happen in the next three years the most important perhaps is that if Biden wins reelection negotiations in 2026 can’t harm the career of a lame-duck President. Expect these negotiations to be all but impossible to follow.
Our climate emergency is the unfixable driver at the heart of the Colorado River’s problem. Worse still is how our meat-centric factory farming industry has squandered the waters of this river. It is best to remember that what goes into a human being’s stomach is hardwired into our brains, it is the superhighway of culinary want and desire. The vast majority in our world eat meat, even as vegetarians and vegans expand their percentages, meat remains wildly popular. Then, there is the cultural impact of changes that switching away from the holy trinity of alfalfa, dairy and meat production will have on our rural population.
The global energy transition has interrupted some of our world’s most powerful industries. Fossil fuels, automobiles, solar panels, wind turbines and the scaling up of the production of lithium batteries are all big and important drivers to our economic life. There have been warnings by climate experts about the threat of drought and flooding in this climate altered world. Water scarcity has hit key regions of the world, other parts it has become too warm for some crops to propagate, sometimes too hot to grow at all.
The Colorado River basin’s biggest problem is the legacy food production system started in the 1800’s is no longer feasible given our growing population in the Southwest. Gross domestic product isn’t everything, certainly there is more to life than how much our economy produces, but even still there are limits to what purposes we put to water and what we receive in return. Today in our current politically stalemated circumstances we use 80% of all the water coming down the Colorado River to produce a return on that water of somewhere around 4% of the region’s gross domestic product. That lack of return on investment has remained unchallenged by the great power of Big Agriculture’s lobbying prowess and the cowardice of our political leaders.
I leave you with this picture of the Colorado River near Parker, Arizona. Take a look, now imagine most all that water is dedicated to some thousands of farms and ranches while a very small sliver is left for the use of the regions 40 million citizens. There is a lot we have to do to insure our survival on this climate emergency fated planet, high on that list is reforming the nation’s water distribution system on the Colorado River. This is the real deal—