From the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River flows through some of the world’s most majestic landscapes.
Spanning seven U.S. states and two in Mexico, she supplies drinking water to nearly 36 million people, irrigates more than 4 million acres of farmland, and provides power to the region’s cities. This western lifeline also supports a thriving $26 billion recreational economy.
Over the last 15 years, a changing climate, booming populations and rapidly growing demands have taken a toll on this iconic river and its tributaries. In fact, the river has not regularly reached the sea in decades.
Hope for the River
When it comes to water issues in the West, progress is slow and conflicts are common. Farmers, cities, businesses, recreation and wildlife all depend on a healthy river. Balancing all of these needs is the trick – every one of them is valid, and yet there just isn’t enough water to go around.
In spite of these challenges, I continue to believe there is hope for the river.
An historic event this past March buoyed my optimism: I saw water flow into the Colorado River Delta for the first time in decades.
This formerly lush and green expanse of land is located along the U.S.-Mexico border and had been bone dry for decades. The area symbolized the very issues we face throughout the River’s vast Basin – not enough water to meet growing needs and maintain the river’s health.
Amid conflict and struggles, the U.S. and Mexico signed an agreement in November 2012 to begin to restore the Colorado River Delta. This showed the world we were able to reach solutions for our communities and the environment in spite of water scarcity.
What You Can Do
Everyone who depends on the Colorado River can help. There are five simple things you can do to help us keep the river healthy for generations to come:
1. Shorten your daily shower by two minutes and you’ll save up to 150 gallons per month.
2. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and save up to 150 gallons per month.
3. Run your clothes washer and dishwasher only when they are full and save up to 200 gallons a month.
4. Fix that leaky faucet or running toilet and save up to 300 gallons per month.
5. Use water-wise and drought tolerant plants and water them in the early morning or evening to reduce evaporation.
Together, we can bring hope to one of the world’s most iconic rivers.
Photo © the Sonoran Institute
By Taylor Hawes/ The Nature Conservancy
About the Author
Taylor Hawes became The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado River Program Director several years ago because she wanted to help this river. She says, “I wanted to see this river thrive, not only for its natural beauty but because so many people, livelihoods, plants and wildlife depend on it.”