The Colorado River supplies 40 million people with water, from Denver to Phoenix to Los Angeles. But now the water is running out because it is snowing less and less in the Rocky Mountains due to global warming – for twenty years now. “The situation is getting worse every year,” says Zane Kessler from the Colorado River Water Conservation District to SRF.
Water distribution by emergency regulations
“There is an existential water shortage.” The Blue Mesa Reservoir high up in the Rocky Mountains was emptied to a third by emergency ordinance from Washington this summer so that the population as well as Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California still receive enough water.
In Elk Creek Harbor, all motor boats have to be brought ashore, the water is too shallow. Port operator Eric Loken is furious: “We know that water is scarce, but if we have to send our water into the desert, where it evaporates, it doesn’t go down well here.” It is clear to him that things cannot go on like this. Water has to be saved, but not here in Colorado, but in Arizona.
“There will be a theater when the people in Arizona can no longer water lush lawns,” says Eric Loken cynically. In fact, Arizona rationed water consumption for farmers for the first time.
The battle for the distribution of water as a resource begins
If the drought continues, as science predicts, the battle for the distribution of the scarce resource will intensify. What the southwestern United States is experiencing is the beginning of a climate catastrophe, says environmental scientist Jeff Sellen of Western Colorado University. “The reservoirs functioned like a bank account, in dry years you could make a reference.” But now the account has melted.
If the drought continues, as science predicts, a dispute will soon begin between the US states, which are dependent on the water from the Colorado mountains. The seven affected US states have to negotiate a new water supply contract by 2026. The old Colorado River Compact dates from 1922. At that time, 30,000 people lived in Phoenix, today it is 1.6 million.
The fear of the future water scarcity is great among the farmers. Gunnison cattle farmer Kathleen Curry sat in the Colorado Parliament for 12 years and is now lobbying for water rights for Colorado farmers.
She sees the future of agriculture in acute danger. “Agricultural water consumers will hardly be able to defend themselves against the urban, populous regions,” says Kathleen Curry.
Although the farmers had the oldest water rights on the Colorado River, the land regions would not have the political weight necessary to save these rights in the future.
Speculative land purchases for water rights
Some fear the water shortage, others see it as an opportunity. The Wall Street Investment Fund “Water Asset Management” (WAM), for example, is buying up land with old water rights on a large scale.
There is resistance to this in the Colorado Parliament. An official working group has determined that the land purchases may be speculative. Speculating in water is prohibited in the state of Colorado.
“There are investors who buy land and water rights with the hope of making financial profits when they run out,” says Peter Fleming, legal advisor to the River Water Conservation District and member of the working group against speculation, told SRF on the verge of a water- Congress in Steamboat, Colorado.
Lawyer James Eklund represents the interests of the investment fund WAM. He speaks of demonizing his clients.
Rather, it is about fighting the water shortage with all our might. This requires private capital. «The crisis is real. Never before have the water reservoirs had to be emptied as much as this summer. ” Eklund denies that WAM is only interested in water rights when it comes to land purchases. “My clients want to buy good agricultural land with good water rights, as they are needed in the dry west.”
The goal is to increase the country’s profitability. “My clients have long-term investments in Colorado’s agriculture,” says Eklund.
Land purchases are meeting with resistance
The water politician Steve Acquafresca, board member of the water planning authority Colorado River Water Conservation District, sees it differently. He lives in Grand Junction, where numerous WAM land purchases have attracted attention.
“Investors are betting that water will become so scarce in the western US that the laws will be changed and private water sales to populous regions like California will be allowed,” said Acquafresca. Then wave the investors a huge profit.
It is strategic that WAM is buying land in the Grand Valley on the Utah border. “The border districts have old and extensive water rights, and the water flows directly into the large reservoirs”. He believes that strict laws should prohibit water speculation. Because water is like oxygen, it belongs to everyone.
Even he, as the owner of water rights, is only allowed to use the water while it is flowing by. “And it has to stay that way, precisely because the water is running out,” says Steve Acquafresca.