The Vanishing River: USA's Mega Drought | Foreign Correspondent

The Vanishing River: USA's Mega Drought | Foreign Correspondent

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i'm so just up ahead you can see the colorado river there the left the mighty colorado 2 300 kilometers of river stretching from the snowy peaks of america's rocky mountains all the way to the sea of cortez in mexico a place to play and one of deep spiritual significance that's worth coming up for [Music] feet to me it's life man it's being happy down here the colorado is a lifeline for the united states arid southwest 40 million people and counting rely on it but the river is under threat at the northern end of lake powell the stark reality of the water crisis facing america's is beyond denial the reservoir's water has once filled the valley below supporting a thriving tourism industry centered around a bustling marina 20 years into the mega drought this is all that's left all along the colorado livelihoods are hanging in the balance i have dreams about it i wake up it's the first thing on my mind a once unimaginable worst case scenario is now a real possibility if the levels of the colorado continue to plummet millions of people could find themselves without power or water something has to give it is extremely hard to look anybody in the eye and say your way of life is threatened and your way of life may not be able to proceed [Music] we're hitching a ride deep into the grand canyon we're guests of the hualapai the native american tribe whose land this is see later on watch the bottom step ahead a day of adventure on the river whose rapids helped carve this natural wonder all right group three let me get group three together uh got your dry bag everybody our guide is jordan marshall he's a 34 year old father of eight the colorado runs along the edge of the hualapai reservation providing the tribe with a vital source of tourist revenue what we're going to do is when we go through the rapid is that we're going to have you lean forward so what you want you to do is hold on like this trust me people do fall out so am i going to scream sir let's hope so i think you're more or less could be drinking a lot of water there we go the rapids have their own names and legends honeymoon killer fang separation okay this is a class seven rockets it's pretty impressive the hualapai call the colorado river hayata the backbone [Music] they say there's things inside the water you know like a spiritual awakening like some people feel you know blessed by it but the story on everyone's mind is the one about the vanishing river it's dropping drastically 20 18 years ago that's how high the water was it's wrapped alone i remember last year we had water so low that we were we were actually walking our boats for about a mile it does get a little scary you know to notice that the water is going away [Music] and what about the tourism industry if the water levels keep dropping i try not to think that too far ahead you know because you know for me i'm always i try to live in the moments now so i mean thinking about it right now is giving me that little scare about it you know yeah [Music] downstream from the hualapai's land the colorado river flows into america's largest reservoir meade a man-made lake created by the construction of hoover dam [Music] is here at hoover that it really hits home just how much the water is falling see do you see the cutters yes the water was up there by the white see where it turns brown as far as the eye can see an eerie bathtub ring encircles the reservoir a bleak barometer of the escalating crisis [Music] when i moved here in 1999 we came out to see hoover dam for the first time and i was so impressed by the majesty of it and i still am every single day when i come out to work here it's very sobering to see the decline in the reservoir levels petty aaron moved to nevada in 1999 to work for the federal agency that manages hoover dam the southwest's mega drought hadn't yet begun when i first moved here the water level was um almost up to the bottom of walkways out to our intake towers the reservoir was 97 percent full and today we're at 29 percent full a century ago the southern u.s states the colorado courses through decided to divvy up its waters half for the upper basin half for the lore then they began damning the mighty river to control the flows thus the first thunders of man's determination to conquer the colorado river reverberated between the sheer cliffs of the canyon which heretofore had known only the hot silence of the desert but the 1922 agreement the colorado river compact was flawed from the get-go the water was over allocated the calculations based on an unusually wet period [Music] then came climate change and a 20-year drought today the shortcomings of the century-old agreement are laid bare [Music] so we're gonna go into a hard hat area so i'll give you a hard hat i have my own days before her retirement patty takes me deep into the bowels of the dam delighting and showing off one last time the engineering masterpiece 726 feet high 1221 feet wide wow well that's hoover dam that is uber it's been called this the eighth wonder of the world by certain people as well as supplying water to the lower basin states the hydropower created here delivers electricity to around 350 000 homes and how many of these are there there are nine generators on the arizona side and eight on the nevada side right now production is down about 13 percent if water levels continue to plummet a catastrophic scenario looms they call it deadpool deadpool means that we can no longer deliver water or produce power and like me that's elevation 895 feet you'd be talking about a drop down of about 150 feet how how soon could that happen we're working very hard on making sure that doesn't happen having that happen is not an option to ensure the water keeps flowing and the lights stay on this year the federal government for the first time triggered water cuts for the lower basin states of nevada and arizona for decades this 500 kilometer long canal system has delivered colorado river water to the people of arizona allowing them to live and work in the desert it's here that the water cuts are hitting the hardest and farmers are bearing the brunt we do work long long hours you know through the day through the night year around but you know the freedom of it being outside being kind of one with the land the job that i do on a daily basis positively impacts not only the people around me but people across the world it's harvest time in pinal county and jace miller has been working through the night another hot day lies ahead in this part of america's southwest temperatures frequently soar into the 40s right now we're harvesting an alfalfa crop this crop's been on the ground about three days alfalfa hay has long been a staple here much of it bought up as feed by the region's mammoth dairy industry it's a multi-annual crop so we'll get three to five years out of this alfalfa stand but it's also a thirsty crop and that's a problem because jace has seen his water allocation slashed by around 40 percent this year they say well just grow a crop that doesn't require as much water well name the crop and we'll do it we'll gladly do it um it we've got to evaluate this from two points of view a how can we best use our water but also what is profitable we love this way life but at the same time we got to make a dollar around 70 percent of colorado river water goes to agriculture and has cut spite some farmers are selling up others downsizing so right here these fields to the east west of us are actually fallowed fields for this current crop season but farmers have always followed some fields right to an extent yes um but nothing on this ground of the scale how much is water or lack of on your mind i go to bed at night thinking about it i have dreams about it i wake up it's the first thing on my mind jase and his family have been farming in arizona for five generations he runs the business with his dad and grandfather but hopes that his son will continue the family tradition for fading fast i sure hope to see i see a sixth generation in the state he's the only boy in the family so he's gonna carry it on us because it's all up to him yeah exactly it is a troubling gloomy sense that i feel every day of my life that my son will not be able to share in the magnificence and the enjoyment and the beauty of this profession the thought that it may die under my watch is blood curdling it's just sickening to say the least does it make sense looking back that agriculture was allowed to develop to the extent that it has in the southwest we tend to be a scapegoat so if there's ever a shortage or an issue oh take it from the farmers and ranchers farmers and ranchers are feeding clothing in the world [Music] if there's one place that's tried to defy reality it's las vegas viva viva las you very much an audacious extravagant mecca smack bang in the middle of nevada's mojave desert love it or hate it las vegas pools in the crowds welcoming more than 40 million visitors a year vegas baby not the first place you'd think of as adopting a conservative approach to anything really but sin city gets 90 of its water from the colorado river and that's focused mines those are flowers on those animals this is how las vegas exists it imagines the impossible right it creates fantasy and brings it to reality a little bit excessive a little bit excessive well i've been called various things over the course of the years i've been called the water witch um i guess i would call myself the unfortunate person who ended up in the chair to inherit the worst drought in the desert southwest in the town with the driest city in america for years pat mulroy was at the helm of southern nevada's water agency under her leadership vegas has transformed itself into an unlikely trailblazer in water conservation we recycle 93 of all the wastewater if it hits the sewer system it gets recycled we have what we call a return flow credit we return the water to lake mead and for every gallon we put in we can put take an extra gallon out so it's like a closed loop where we lose the waters outside [Music] to crack down on outdoor waterways district conservation program is now underway so what i'm doing right now is i'm looking for any kind of water waste violation that's occurring in this neighborhood so that can include anything such as water leaving the property water running off into the gutter and going down the street water cops like cameron donnarumma patrol day and night ready to pounce on rule breakers [Music] the waterways investigator 8776 today is monday june 13th 2022 at 6 58 am spraying flow is occurring at this property the water is running off the property and heading down the street grass is legal but not in your front garden lawns or new properties are banned and there's an incentive program where you get paid to rip up existing turf even on vegas's beloved golf courses [Music] our biggest incentive programs is our water smart landscapes program where we pay residents and businesses three dollars a square foot to remove grass and put in water efficient landscapes and golf courses have been one of the biggest benefactors of that program corey enos from the southern nevada water authority says it's a win-win for clubs like the arroyo the clubs removed grass from areas of the course where people don't tend to hit the ball there used to be wall-to-wall grass from over here where we are to back in front of the houses but the gol forces found that there are areas where people don't play the balls necessarily and so they were able to remove grass save themselves money and save the community water at the same time so is this sustainable can golf courses continue to exist they can golf courses provide an economic benefit and a benefit for our community members as well as those who come from other areas of the country to visit and so they're doing it in a very efficient manner as long as we continue to utilize the resource in the most efficient manner possible i do believe it is sustainable from this year new golf courses are prohibited from using colorado water effectively banning any future ones so if it's not in existence now it's not going to exist and while the city might be okay for the short term pat morroy says other long-term solutions like desalination must be considered you cannot conserve your way out of this we have to augment the system and the only way to augment the system is by tapping into the ocean to engineer our way out of this well let's look think about this whole west it's it's all engineered right i mean unless you want to go live at walden pond i mean you somehow live in an engineered environment right despite the shrinking supply the upper basin state of utah is arguing it hasn't yet used all of its colorado river water welcome to saint george in washington county where taxis are low and the sun shines most days [Music] in america's fastest growing metro area houses are going up overnight we have about 200 000 people that live in our county right now and we're expecting that population to double in about 20 to 30 years the county's top water official zach grenstrom is charged with making sure the region has water security into the future utah has been slow in developing water it has been cautious and so because utah has been smart about how it's developing this water we don't think we should be punished for that now the county currently gets all of its water from this small river the virgin but it can't sustain future growth utah is now backing a bold plan some would say crazy to build a 225 kilometer long pipeline to bring colorado river water all the way to saint george so utah does not plan to use any water over the amount it's entitled to and we won't and we don't think any other state should do that here in utah we just want to have the same right that the other states have had as the states bicker over the dwindling supply yet another hand is being raised native american tribes were excluded from the 1922 colorado river compact the navajo america's largest tribe is still fighting for its full share of the precious resource yeah like it's my first time ever being disclosed the rock in the back a battle being spearheaded by navajo president jonathan ness that's great well thank you for your sake indigenous peoples have been ignored for way too long the reason why i say that is there's uh 30 to 40 percent of our navajo people don't that don't have running water in the most powerful country in the world and that is unacceptable but afro in our native land which is called cajun [Music] mary anderson and her husband ace built their house in fort defiance arizona in the 1980s [Music] but they never imagined they'd still be hauling groundwater in 2022 it all depends on what is we have scheduled for the day like if we need to wash the dishes and we did a lot of cooking then we probably will use about two of that bucket right there the hot water goes in here nice and hot and wash it and then put it in there to rinse it but with a chronic lack of infrastructure also hindering access to running water the couple know a settlement won't change things overnight even if they pass it tomorrow and say hey level people and all the native people in the state of arizona best water rights to the colorado river project and it's not like we're going to get that water the following day you know mary what would it mean for you to have running water here in your home i'd say i'd be the happiest woman around in 2026 the federal government and the states will renegotiate the colorado river compact native american tribes are demanding that this time they have a seat at the table the southwest water may be more valuable than gold in the future and so we want a foundation we want our fair share of our water i'm not gonna say it's too late but we're in true crisis professor jack schmidt is a renowned river scientist he spent decades chronicling the colorado's troubles the undeniable fact is there's less water in the colorado river the undeniable fact is there's no more water in the upper basin that's just being used unused and oh we're going to tap water that no one else is using that it's that that concept is dead where is the ring gun today jack's taking a ride on lake powell another man-made reservoir in the colorado i'm so excited to get you down here to see all the sediment in these canyons it's just it's so interesting in the driving seat eric balkan an old friend who heads up an environmental group which wants to restore this part of the river to its natural state so we are approaching gregory natural bridge this is one of the largest natural bridges in the country and it was drowned in 1969 and it came out of water for the first time last summer so to be able to boat under this is a really unique experience when the reservoir was full you could boat over the top of that thing [Music] hi lily yes you can get off now this is great it's amazing i don't know that i ever thought i'd ever see the things that were lost by water development now as water recedes natural wonders including the signature formation cathedral in the desert or re-emerging a mesmerizing silver lining to the unfolding water crisis i think right now the floor is right about there i think we're about yeah i think it's about 10 feet i see what you're saying um you can see we're getting we're getting close to what it used to look like this is a national treasure this there is nowhere else like this in the world we're now being given a chance to get it back in a place that at least from a water supply decision-making standpoint it's probably more convenient to not know a place like this is here and there's a whole lot of people who would rather we just pretended the colorado river is just a checking account and doesn't include this come on though let's get a little bit so when we cut these new deals about how much water should be used in the upper basin how much water should be used in the lower basin there is an environmental impact of that [Music] with no sign of the drought breaking last month the federal government announced even deeper cuts jase and his farming mate jerry turner say from next year they'll have zero access to colorado river water i mean if if we don't farm around here these towns are gonna close down i mean our kids aren't gonna have schools to go to like we're gonna have to find something else to do so i mean i've got two two young boys that are all about farming and all into it but i don't know around here if there will be anything for them to do you know when the cuts first started to kick in this year did you feel that to some extent you'd been in denial about that or hoping that it would change not i i mean i i think i can speak for jerry jerry i we weren't in denial we i think i wouldn't say we were in denial but partially it's something that in our lifetime we've been hearing about forever it's kind of real the time is coming you know like it's it's actually happening [Music] it is extremely hard to look anybody in the eye and say your way of life is threatened and your way of life may not be able to proceed if there's no agreement in 2026 is not just the future of las vegas but the future of denver and all the front range cities of salt lake and all the utah cities of albuquerque of all of southern california of all urban arizona and all of northern new mexico you can take this entire region and you can shut it down there are going to be limits and that's not the american way to recognize limits but there are strong limits here and we're gonna have to deal with them [Music] [Music] so [Music] you

2022-09-09 00:57

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