Water Conservation versus Ecosystem Preservation
Steve Semken, Megan Jones
Nearly all of the water in the Colorado River system is removed for agricultural, industrial, and residential uses before it reaches the mouth of the river. However, the water delivery system in southern Arizona and California has a number of leaks (mostly seepage through the bottom of unlined canals), by which some of the water moves through the subsurface and back into the lower reaches of the river, sustaining a limited ecosystem in the Colorado River Delta. Before the Colorado was controlled by dams and reservoirs, this ecosystem was lush. It is now much less biodiverse and dominated by invasive species, but nevertheless it lives on.
The Colorado River valley is now in the midst of a protracted drought, and there is a strong impetus for "fixing the leaks" in the system to conserve water: lining the canals, building new impoundments to catch lost water, etc. However, doing so would likely destroy what is left of the Colorado River Delta ecosystem. Given the great demand for water in the urbanizing Southwest, it is highly unlikely that any of the conserved water would be allotted to preserve the Delta.
Should the leaks be fixed and the Delta be desiccated?