There’s something that really jumps out in the Bureau of Reclamation’s final accounting of 2016 Lower Colorado River Basin water use.
In May, the Bureau releases the official accounting, which is a meticulous, tedious, closely watched and monitored and argued over report on who used how much water on the Lower Colorado. Much to digest in the report, and I haven’t ground through the full details yet, but this caught my eye.
The Imperial Irrigation District, the largest water user on the Colorado River, saved 513,573 acre feet in 2016 through a variety of conservation programs. That is more than two Las Vegas’s consumptive use. That is more than ten Albuquerques.
Some of this involves longstanding conservation efforts done in collaboration with other California water agencies, some is more recent. Some involves fallowing fields to conserve water, some system efficiencies, some canal lining. Here’s the tally, from a presentation last week to the IID board by district water manager Tina Shields:
- IIM/MWD system efficiency agreement: 105,000 af
- All-American Canal Lining: 67,700 af
- Fallowing: 152,641 af
- Main canal seepage interception: 35,393 af
- Interties between canals, allowing more efficient water movement: 3,603 af
- 12-hour deliveries (amazing the water saved by delivering water in more precisely timed blocks!) 11,651 af
- on-farm efficiency 138,585 af
That adds up to a 20 percent decrease in water consumption since 2003 on the part of the largest user on the Colorado River. That’s a lot of water. We don’t have the 2016 ag production numbers yet, but in general what we’ve seen during that period is an increasing trend in agricultural productivity. In 2015, inflation-adjusted farm income was up 26 percent from 2003. As I wrote in my book, as water becomes more scarce, farmers have been shifting land out of low-dollar crops like alfalfa and into high-dollar crops like lettuce and other vegetables.
Less water, more agricultural productivity. Important lessons here.