Robert Glennon Opines: ‘If You Live in New York City, Why Should You Care What Happens to the Colorado River?’

August 17, 2022

Guest post from Robert Glennon, Regents Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona College of Law and author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It and his first book Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America’s Fresh Waters. He is also a co-author if the Brookings report Shopping for Water:  How the Market Can Mitigate Water Shortages in the American West.

I first met Robert at an NGWA meeting in Orlando in the early 2000s where he keynoted. Imagine speaking about his popular (not technical) book before a bunch of groundwater scientists and engineers at their annual conference! What hubris! He had us nodding (not shaking) our heads and wondering ‘Why didn’t I (or one of us) write that book?’ Smart guy!

In any case, he is a wonderful raconteur so if you have a chance to hear him speak do so, regardless of the topic.

Enough already; let me turn it over to Professor Glennon.

The Colorado River is facing a crisis caused by the seven basin states diverting more water from the river than Mother Nature reliably provides, a nasty 23-year drought that shows no signs of ending, and climate change.

The water levels in the river’s two giant reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, have dropped hundreds of feet, leaving a tell-tale bathtub ring of salts on the walls of the canyons. Water officials are fretting that one or both may soon drop below the level where the dams can generate hydroelectric power. There is even talk, by knowledgeable experts, that the reservoirs may drop below “dead pool,” an ominous level when no water passes through the dams.

You may already know this. But, if you don’t live in the Colorado River Basin, why should you care? After all, you may think, it has nothing to do with me. That’s not true.

Do you enjoy eating salads? I thought so. A recent survey found that most Americans eat salad four times a week. From late-November through March each year, more than 90 percent of the leafy greens in the country comes from the Yuma, Arizona region. Every leaf of head, butter, green and red lettuce, spring mix, arugula, spinach, celery, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower is grown with Colorado River water.

A small percentage of lettuce is not processed; the consumer washes it at home. The key to being able to supply the entire country with winter salads is that the farming community in Yuma has developed a remarkable system for harvesting, washing, drying, chilling, packing, shipping, and delivering the nation’s lettuce.

John Boelts and his field of romaine lettuce. Below: massive Heinzen HMI 300 salad spinner (300 pound capacity).

Every day during the four-month season, approximately 1,000, 18-wheel, refrigerated trucks depart Yuma, each loaded with 40- to 50,000 pounds of lettuce. Every day!

Processed lettuce comes in the bags and boxes so common at grocery stores and furnishes vacuum-sealed bags for the food service industry, from restaurants to schools to prisons. The vacuum packaging is not, as you may think, plastic bags, because the lettuce would start to turn brown within days. Instead, the industry has developed oxygen transmission rate film that allows a precise amount of oxygen to enter the bag and keep the chilled lettuce alive for 14 to 16-days. When a consumer buys a bag at the local Safeway or a restaurant opens a carton of bags, it’s as fresh as when it departed Yuma.

We should all care about climate change and environmental crises. The Colorado River crisis hits home in a very tangible way. It may require most Americans to change their diets.

NOTE: The cuts in current allocations were just announced. Nevada (-8%); Arizona (-21%); Mexico (-7%). The other states – CA, NM, UT, CO, and WY – were spared.


View this article at: WaterWired