California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim
The most damaging environmental damage comes from the two biggest water supplies, the Rio Grande and the Colorado River. The Rio Grande’s water flows out of the central United States, and the Colorado is from the northwest. Both of these rivers are vital to agriculture and municipalities, but neither river is the most critical.
The Rio Grande flows from high desert areas along the Gulf of Mexico — the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado — to the Gulf. There are two main sources of water for rivers like the Colorado: snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada in northern California and precipitation in the desert Southwest.
Since the Rio Grande flows in one direction from the mountains in California, while the Colorado’s flow is from the Southwest, the two rivers tend to balance each other out. But in the spring, all the snowmelt comes in on the Colorado and none on the Rio Grande, which then begins to run low.
That’s what happened in the 1990s.
In the 1990s, because of drought conditions in California, low snowmelt water began to flow into the Colorado River Valley, which then began to run low. The Colorado River Basin is a large watershed running from the Rockies in Utah to the Gulf of Mexico. That water then begins to flow into the Gulf, where it helps support the food supply for a large part of the United States.
But those same low water conditions that had to be dealt with by the rivers are what caused the Colorado River to become severely polluted. That pollution is what is pouring into the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe River. Both of those rivers are used for salmon and other species of fish that inhabit the river.
The problem of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande’s relationship is what the governor of California wants to turn into an environmental issue.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that people have the right to drink all the water that’s in their rivers and then that anyone who wants more water can get it. But the governor is also worried that the two rivers might not balance each other out. His administration estimates that without action, the river pollution caused by the low water flow will cost the state millions of dollars in water damage repairs and will cause a reduction in the amount of water