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.

Legend:

The Gunnison River, the main tributary of the Colorado Stream. It carries less and less water – because of global warming.

SRF / Isabelle Jacobi

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.

Legend:

A port is on dry land – the Blue Mesa Reservoir had to be emptied in an emergency.

SRF / Isabelle Jacobi

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.

Legend:

The distribution battle has begun – port owner Eric Loken doesn’t understand why he should forego his income.

SRF / Isabelle Jacobi

“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.

Legend:

Environmental scientist Jeff Sellen stands on the remains of the village of Iola, which was flooded in the 1960s – now its foundations have re-emerged due to the drought.

SRF / Isabelle Jacobi

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.

Legend:

She takes the climate crisis seriously – Kathleen Curry lobbies for the water interests of farmers in Colorado.

SRF / Isabelle Jacobi

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.

Legend:

In Grand Valley, Colorado, the Water Asset Management mutual fund is buying land with valuable water rights near the Utah border.

SRF / Isabelle Jacobi

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.

Legend:

Until recently, James Eklund was a major water official in Colorado, now he works for his Wall Street clients.

SRF / Isabelle Jacobi

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.”

Legend:

A water pump in the Grand Valley: The water is distributed to the landowners using a complex canal system – the water rights are tied to the land.

SRF / Isabelle Jacobi

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.

Legend:

Former peach farmer and water politician Steve Acquafresca is fighting against a free water market. Melons grow on his estate in Grand Junction – thanks to the Colorado River.

SRF / Isabelle Jacobi

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.

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