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Adam Minter

Farmers Can’t Keep Hogging the Water in Parched Southwest

A century ago, agriculture grabbed most of the rights to flows from the Colorado River. Now it needs to share with growing cities.

For farmers, the biggest sacrifice to save a resource.

For farmers, the biggest sacrifice to save a resource.

Photographer: Bing Guan/Bloomberg

The lush lawns and green golf courses of Southern California are an emblem of the desert Southwest’s dependence on the Colorado River. But they’re just a small part of the demands placed on this crucial water resource in times of both drought and plenty. The far bigger part, as much as 80%, comes from millions of acres of irrigated farms across the parched region.

Those farms play a crucial role in the economic health of California and the desert Southwest. But their water rights and consumption are increasingly at odds with the region's massive growth. As the seven states of the Colorado River Basin seek to preserve the river, agriculture must give up more.