Federal Affairs Briefing: National Focus on the Colorado River Basin

Senate Agriculture Committee Turns its Attention to the Colorado River, Western Drought Conditions  

On June 7th, River District General Manager, Andy Mueller, testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee in a hearing titled The Western Water Crisis: Confronting Persistent Drought and Building Resilience on Our Forests and Farmland.”  

The hearing was focused on ways the Department of Agriculture and the federal government can assist in responding to worsening hydrological situation unfolding in the Colorado River Basin. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), who chairs the Subcommittee, said his reasoning for requesting the hearing was simple: “to sound the alarm about the water crisis in the American West.” 

Mueller’s written and verbal statements focused on the impacts of climate change on water supplies in the Colorado River Basin and the federal action needed for impacted communities. 

“This drought is threatening our local, regional, and national food supplies,” Mueller told the subcommittee. “Over the last twenty years, the flows of the Colorado River have been 20% below average due to a drought more severe than any in the last 1,200 years. Families who have been involved in agriculture and ranching for multiple generations are being forced to sell their cattle and are confronting tremendously uncertain futures.” 

Joined by other expert witnesses from Colorado and Kansas, Mueller put the needs of West Slope water users front and center in the Senate forum, stressing opportunities for federal action through the upcoming Farm Bill to aid District communities and beyond. This led into an important  discussion between witnesses and members of the Subcommittee about how agricultural producers on Colorado Western Slope are already fallowing marginal cropland during extended dry periods and about how the upcoming Farm Bill should look at all available mechanisms to compensate farmers and ranchers for continuing to fallow marginal land while ensuring that productive ground stays in production.