Colorado and five other Colorado River states have reached consensus on how to reduce their water use, the states announced Monday.
The proposal, which the states will submit to the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, proposes changes to criteria for reducing Colorado River use, including operating guidelines for Glen Canyon Dam on Lake Powell and Hoover Dam on Lake Mead. The states had until Tuesday to make major cuts in water use.
The proposal comes at a time when federal pressure to reduce water use is high and the Mead and Powell river system is near disaster approaching critical levels. The Colorado River has been ranked as the most endangered river in the United States, according to a report by the United States non-profit organization American Rivers.
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The proposal was signed by Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. California is the only river state not to sign, which drew criticism from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who issued a statement calling California’s decision “deeply disappointing.”
The proposal calls for reduced releases from Lakes Powell and Mead and additional combined reductions of 250,000 acre-feet and 200,000 acre-feet from two elevations from Lake Mead to Arizona, California and Nevada.
The federal government is expected to evaluate the proposal and incorporate it into a supplemental environmental impact statement to update the operational guidelines originally set in 2007.
The river rises high in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park and collects water from major tributaries, which then flows through a seven-state river system. The basin is divided into two regions: the upper basin includes Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah; The Lower Basin includes Arizona, Nevada and California.
Colorado River states are facing a new deadline to reduce water use
“We recognize that over the past 20+ years, far less water has entered the Colorado River system than it has exited, and that we have virtually run out of reservoirs to deplete,” the states say in their proposal . Pledge to continue working with the federal government, water users, Basin Tribes and others.
Last year when the river was confirmed driest time in 1,200 yearsthe federal government asked the seven river states to reduce water use by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet. Discussions were hampered by competing priorities and disagreements about the role each state should play in the reduction effort, and no consensus was reached.
“I am encouraged today that six states have agreed on possible mechanisms to better manage the critical Colorado River reservoirs,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis wrote in a statement. “Increasing drought, climate change and overexploitation have resulted in less water in our reservoirs. More needs to be done to protect the system, and while we didn’t cause this crisis, I’m proud that Colorado is part of the solution.”
“We have forged a shared vision that will protect the Colorado River and the 40 million people and more than 30 tribes who depend on it,” Bennet said.
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