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These Five People Could Make or Break the Colorado River

Alex Cardenas. J.B. Hamby. Jim Hanks. Javier Gonzalez. Norma Sierra Galindo.

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of them. But with the Colorado River in crisis, they’re arguably five of the most powerful people in the American West.

They’re the elected directors of the Imperial Irrigation District, or IID, which provides water to the desert farm fields of California’s Imperial Valley, in the state’s southeastern corner. They control 3.1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water — roughly one-fifth of all the Colorado River water rights in the United States.

And if you live in Southern California — or in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver or Salt Lake City — the future reliability of your water supply will depend at least in part on what IID does next.

That’s because the Colorado River has been over-tapped for a century — and now climate change is making things worse, sharply reducing the river’s flow. Lake Mead is just 28% full, its lowest level ever.