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Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations

Irrigation and Water Depletion in the Southwest United States

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Water depletion

Irrigation in the Southwest U.S.

“We need to work together to feed the world, but we also need to work together to save and monitor our water resources.”

By Linn Smith

August 26, 2018—- On the farmland of my youth in the Midwest, my brothers and I spent much time baling hay for our cattle, but water was plentiful and plants thrived with no irrigation. Cows were in green pastures in the summertime and in winter months we fed hay when grasses died.

Farming in the Southwest

When traveling to southern New Mexico and southern Arizona, I often see hay and cotton fields in the middle of the desert and semi arid terrain. It seems an unlikely place to grow crops that have high water needs! 

Today the Southwest is water-stressed with many lawsuits taking place, both privately and between states, over water rights. The projection is that reduced precipitation by mid-century will result in reduced runoff into the water basins that feed irrigated fields.

I recently heard a local resident from Arizona say that Saudi Arabia was buying land in Arizona and California’s arid landscape for growing hay and shipping it back to their country. The export of hay (grasses grown for feeding animals) is booming in the U. S., with the amount of hay leaving the west coast ports increasing yearly. In 2017, the total exports of alfalfa and other hay reached 4.2 million metric tons and is continuing to grow.

The fact that hay and cotton are being exported is healthy for our economy, as many U.S. farmers are growing and exporting this commodity, mostly from states that require little irrigation for agriculture. The issue is growing crops in the desert Southwest in what is fast becoming an area where water is not replenishing itself in the rivers and reservoirs.

The Colorado river

Farmers in the Southwest are left little water for irrigation.

Depletion of our Water Resources

What is healthy for our aquifers and rivers when they are not replenishing? Doug Kenny, Director of the Western Water Policy Program at University of Colorado, says about potential water shortage. “Right now, it’s the effort to maintain the levels of water stored in the big reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. They’re about half full, which is about as low as they can go before mandatory cuts in water deliveries. It’s a math problem—managing water coming in vs. water going out. So far this century, people have pulled more water out than consistently flows in. That has to change.”

Saudi Arabia and the Southwest

 Most crops will only thrive with irrigation in the arid Southwest.  Saudi Arabia is confronting a major depletion in its aquifers which has brought its wheat and hay production to a halt. They have bought 1,000’s of acres in arid parts of the U.S., Arizona and Southern California (and several other countries), allowing them to take advantage of the U.S. water laws. The Laws of the Colorado River are currently under scrutiny by the Upper and Lower Basin states because of continuing depletion of the river and Lake Mead, which supplies water to the lower Colorado river basin states. Most crops will only thrive with irrigation in the arid Southwest.

The drought of Southwest U.S.

Lake Mead depletion

Southern California: Irrigating Crops vs Urban Use

In Southern California the Metropolitan Water District pays landowners to fallow their land, letting it lay without planting crops so that water is freed up for urban areas. Since 2005, over $200 million has been paid to farmers not to grow crops on this program. This allows water to be directed to Los Angeles and other cities in Southern California.

Has this program enabled corruption and profit from drought conditions? A single recipient, Fisher Ranch, owned by a board member of the operation, has received over $27 million a year since 2005 for leaving his land fallow.

Colorado River

Depletion of water for crop irrigation

The Water Crisis

As I continue to study depleting water conditions in the Western U.S., I realize in 20 years, if not sooner, we are going to be facing a water crisis due to climate change and over allotment of water rights and usage. We need to ask ourselves what changes are necessary today to alleviate the impending crisis.

Water shortage is going to be a complex problem in the future requiring many people to make sacrifices. We need to work together to feed the world, but we also need to work together to save and monitor our water resources. Education and awareness is a place to start.

The Southwest Water Crisis

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Author: Planet Earth Weekly

My goal, as a responsible adult, is to leave a planet that people, plants, and animals can continue to occupy comfortably. I am an educator by profession. While educating myself on Climate Change and Renewable Resources, I hope to share my knowledge and images with those that share my concern. Dr. John J. Hidore is a retired professor from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and I am proud to call him my Uncle. His work has taken him to regions across the globe—including the Middle East, where he conducted research for a year in the Sudan. He has written many books, such as Climatology: An Atmospheric Science and Global Environmental Change.----Linn Smith

3 thoughts on “Irrigation and Water Depletion in the Southwest United States

  1. Cape Town has water restriction of 50 litres of water per person per day.

    Do you know Women in Cape Town are requesting salon owners or hair stylists to give them short hair cut? Just to save water…
    chek my work at https://yourwellwisherprogram.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/save-water-with-short-hair/

  2. Thanks for the heads up on Cape Town! We all need to work together to make it happen….start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can!

  3. Pingback: The Law of the River: The Over Allotment of the Colorado River | Planet Earth Weekly

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