The Colorado River Is in Crisis. The Walton Family Is Pushing a Solution.

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Walmart’s successors spend heavily to promote their idea that the water market is the best way to deal with dwindling supplies.

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A Wall Street Journal analysis shows that the Walton Family Foundation, a charitable foundation controlled by Walton, has given nearly $200 million to various advocacy groups, universities and media outlets involved in the river over the past decade. No other donor comes close. Two federal officials once attached to the foundation have been named to key Biden administration positions overseeing the river.

Putting a monetary price on water has raised concerns among those who benefit from guaranteed access to water and those who believe that markets benefit investors while harming farmers and the poor. Water markets in Australia have been blamed for helping waterways dry up due to overuse by a handful of wealthy farmers and investors.

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“Whenever water starts to become more valuable than land, you end up with the potential for outside speculators,” said Andrew Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, a public planning and policy agency that monitors water use in western Colorado. takes care of. . Mr. Mueller said his state is seeing continued interest in agricultural water and land by external investment groups.

The Walton Foundation has recognized for years that water markets are among the best ways to distribute and preserve the water that flows along the 1,450-mile river. Several environmental groups taking Walton’s money are major water-market boosters.

The Nature Conservancy, a public charity focused on conservation that has received funding from Waltons, said in a 2016 report that such markets could “secure a regular flow of water back into the depleted ecosystem and the rest can irrigate or sell back to the cities.” An added benefit, it said, “is a material return to investors.”

“We need every tool in the toolbox, including directed water markets, to increase water security and protect all those things,” said a spokesperson for the Nature Conservancy.

According to the foundation’s databases and charities, over the past decade, the foundation has taken a slew of institutional funding for Colorado River activism to major environmental charities such as the National Audubon Society, the Environmental Defense Fund and American River.

Walton has also given money to foundations run by the University of Colorado and the University of Arizona, among other universities. This year it helped fund a reporting team at the Associated Press covering water issues. The AP said it worked with nonprofits other than the Walton Family Foundation and retained editorial control over all matters.

A University of Colorado spokesperson said the donations did not affect the outcome of his research. A spokesperson for the University of Arizona said funding for the Colorado River program has been received from other groups over the past four years, but its largest source was the Walton Foundation.

Money directed by the Walton Foundation often goes toward advocating for markets where water is bought and sold. Proponents say markets can more efficiently assess and allocate water, especially when climate change threatens to reduce supplies. In the West, they say, long-standing policies that encourage farmers to use all of their water or give it away, known as “use it or lose it”, This has caused widespread destruction.

The river is now facing one of its biggest crises. In August the Bureau of Reclamation announced the first water shortages on the Colorado River, prompting reductions in several states. The bureau announced after forecasting that Nevada’s Lake Mead, which stores water from the river, would remain below 1,075 feet above sea level at least until early next year.

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