Water is at the heart of climate change. From wildfires fueled by long-term drought to increasingly severe storms and flooding, Western states are experiencing climate change either by being inundated with water or deprived of it. With conditions often swinging wildly between these two extremes.
In Phoenix, groundwater shortages have led the state government to halt new construction in some areas. California has seen entire towns leveled by catastrophic wildfires. And the major reservoirs on the Colorado River – a critical water source for 40 million people in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California – have fallen to dangerously low levels.
To find solutions that work for people and nature, we need to look for the best ideas from everyone. That includes business leaders.
Supporting projects that protect the long-term health of the Colorado River Basin is no longer optional for companies that work in the region.
As the West increasingly feels the impacts of climate change, there is growing recognition in the business sector that we need long-term water sustainability strategies to confront the threat.
The Colorado River Basin includes some of the fastest growing state economies in the nation. The river itself supports $1.4 trillion in annual economic activity and 16 million jobs. Supporting projects that protect the long-term health of the Colorado River Basin is no longer optional for companies that work in the region. It is a mandatory response to an existential business threat.
Corporations have long seen the value in water conservation projects. Efforts that create more efficient manufacturing processes, recycle wastewater and fix leaky infrastructure are important. But they are not enough to meet today’s challenges on their own. We need long-term solutions that match the scale of the problem. That means strategies that make us more resilient to climate change. This includes being able to prepare for, mitigate and adapt to severe drought, flooding, wildfires and other climate change impacts.
Tackling a problem of this scale requires innovation. It also calls for collaboration and ambition. These are all areas where tech companies excel. A few are already leading the way.
In Arizona, Google, Intel, Meta, Edgecore Digital Infrastructure and others have partnered with state and federal agencies, Salt River Project, nonprofits and utilities to support forest restoration work in the Salt-Verde watershed upstream of Phoenix. Catastrophic fires in the 1990s and fire suppression tactics have led to unhealthy forest conditions that include an overgrowth of small shrubs and trees. This increases the risk of wildfires that threaten local communities. They also put downstream water deliveries and infrastructure at risk. Removing hazardous undergrowth and helping the forest become more resilient helps increase water security for the Phoenix Metro area.
On Wyoming’s Green River, Meta is partnering with Trout Unlimited to help re-establish wetlands to limit damage from future wildfires, floods and drought. Over time the Green River, like other Western river systems, has become less able to hold and store water. This innovative project mimics the work of beavers to recreate small, temporary dams in degraded streams. Called “beaver-based restoration,” these structures slow water down and create natural reservoirs that rehydrate the area.
By spreading water from the river over the floodplain, the project helps local wetlands soak up and store water. Clean water then naturally moves back into the river throughout the year. The wetter landscape also creates firebreaks that limit the spread of wildfires.
Corporate sustainability goals typically prioritize short-term projects that fit neatly into annual reports. But tech companies have never been limited by old models. The same willingness to explore new ideas, take risks and work outside traditional boundaries makes them well-suited for the task at hand.
Our foundations have worked closely with corporate partners to address challenges facing the Colorado River. We know firsthand the outsize impact we can have when diverse partners, including community groups, business, Tribal Nations, state and local government and philanthropy collaborate. The Colorado River is on life support. Projects like these can restore the river’s health.
Support for long-term, nature-based solutions is essential if companies want to continue to work in the region. It is how we create water security for the entire basin, now and for the next generation.