Water Wisdom: Planning for the Future
As we begin the 21st century, Western water resources are under severe stress. A combination of booming population growth, the worst drought ever recorded and a changing climate has leaders, policymakers and conservationists concerned about the reliability of our future water resources.
As part of its strategic plan, the Sonoran Institute is using education, good information and place-based projects to increase the capacity of decision-makers and communities to better manage their water resources for the future.
Demand for water is closely linked with local land-use planning decisions, community development and energy policy. The Institute is uniquely positioned to engage in all three areas. Bringing experience, ideas and a regional perspective to government officials and decision-makers, the Institute is actively encouraging conservation-based policy changes to protect and sustain the vital water resources of the West for generations to come.
From working in the communities of Mexico to replace water-hungry, invasive Salt Cedar with native Cottonwood trees, to teaching the latest water harvesting techniques in Tucson, Arizona, to informing the public about the water impacts associated with plans to drill for oil shale on the Front Range of Colorado, the Institute is using its unique brand of community-based collaborative conservation to inform local citizens about their vital resources and to build ownership for sustainable solutions.
Ancient Practices Inspire Modern Policies
The Sonoran Institute partnered with the city of Tucson, Arizona, to establish the nation's first municipal rainwater harvesting ordinance for commercial projects. Going forward, Tucson developers will have to supply half of the water needed for landscaping from harvested rainwater. Borrowed from centuries old practices of local Native American tribes, the Institute championed the idea of incorporating water harvesting concepts into modern community development policies. Other cities across the West have already begun to emulate Tucson's leadership on this water issue.
Empowered Local Leadership
In recent years, hard rock mining activity has surged in the West. Commercial mining for copper, gold, silver, uranium and other metals has a small impact on the overall economy, but comes with a big impact on water resources, landscapes and the environment. Mining proposals also stir up controversy. Using research, the Sonoran Institute has provided new knowledge and insight on the impacts of mining to local officials in Colorado and Arizona, to help them make the best decisions about their economic future, while protecting their vital natural resources.
Energy Vision for the West
The headwaters of the Colorado River are located on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies. This geography is also home to the largest deposit of oil shale in the country. Extracting the oil shale is known to be a water intensive process. The oil shale debate has energized the Sonoran Institute to map out a new energy vision for the West—one that promotes sustainability, respects the predicted scarcity of future water resources and considers the diverse inter¬ests of 30 million downstream users of Colorado River water.
A River Runs Through Mexico
A cornerstone of the Sonoran Institute's unique approach to con¬servation is local involvement and ownership. A good example of the Institute's "boots on the ground" style of conservation is our efforts to restore active flows to the Hardy and Colorado rivers in Mexico by ridding the waterways of invasive, water-hungry vegeta¬tion and replacing it with native species such as Cottonwood trees. In 2009, we recruited a small army of volunteers, young and old, into our "Adopt-A-River" program to restore miles of river corridor for farming, municipal and recreational activities.
Creative Ideas for Water Shortages
In 2009, the Institute received the Partners in Conservation Award from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for providing leadership associated with creating new guidelines for managing shortages of Colorado River water. One of the most exciting parts of the agreement is a new opportunity for Mexico and conservation organizations to develop and store water for a variety of purposes, including restoring the Colorado River Delta.
Ideas without Borders
Long recognized as one of North America's most impressive wet¬lands, the Colorado River Delta faces possible extinction. Drought, massive water diversions and climate change have shrunk the once mighty estuary to less than 10 percent of its original size. A new bi¬national partnership between the Sonoran Institute, Environmental Defense Fund, and Pronatura Sonora, a Mexico-based conservation organization, is actively marketing visionary ideas—a Water Trust—for acquiring water and land for the restoration of the Colorado River Delta.