Decisions about the Colorado River will shape Lake Mead’s future in how water is used

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Seven states that depend on the water of the Colorado River are facing a federal deadline. That deadline is Jan. 31, and if the states haven’t agreed on a water-saving plan, federal agencies will dictate a solution to them.

And we’re not talking a drop in the bucket here. It’s a claim that drew a lot of mockery and raised eyebrows when it was announced last year. The US Department of the Interior wants agreement on a plan to save 2 million to 4 million acre-feet per year.

That’s 650 billion to 1.3 trillion gallons. The lower end of that range is more than seven years of Nevada’s share of river water.

Rather than coming together to solve the problem, the states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) boasted about how much they’d already saved – and failed to come up with a “reasonable” Find solution August.

The federal government waited and continued to push for cooperation and cooperation. And it began to develop its own plans if states should fail again.

And the Nevada water authorities got to work, too, compiling the only published plan that addresses water use in all states of the Colorado River Basin. The framework of the plan calls for saving 500,000 acre-feet from conservation efforts in the Upper Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and 1.5 million acre-feet by penalizing Arizona and California for “transit losses” — evaporation and seepage , the costs cause an enormous amount of water, since the water is delivered in open canals and tunnels. Check out our previous coverage for the details:

Intake towers for water entry for electricity generation and hydroelectric power delivery stand at the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River on the Nevada-Arizona border during low tide due to the western drought July 19, 2021. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON/AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Tensions surfaced at a conference held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in mid-December.

“I can feel the fear, the uncertainty in this space and in the basin as we look at the flow and the hydrology that we are facing,” US Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton told the conference. The Bureau of Reclamation manages the operations of dams including Glen Canyon Dam (Lake Powell) and Hoover Dam (Lake Mead). These levees drive some of the decisions about water in the office, which continues to adhere to the terms of the Colorado River Compact, known as “The Law of the River.”

A report of the Las Vegas conference in the Los Angeles Times quotes Touton as saying, “We hope that a consensus alternative will emerge from the basin before the end of January,” Touton said. “Let’s do it together.”

By all accounts, more water is being allocated today than actually flows down the river. Climate change has parched the desert southwest to the point where the Colorado River can no longer meet demand.

“I’m a big believer in law, I’m a big believer in food security, but I’m an even stronger believer in math.” John Entsminger, CEO of the Southern Nevada Water Authority told a reporter for NPR in December. “The law is complicated, politics is complicated, science and mathematics are not complicated.”

Lake Mead – July 2022 (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

While governments sought and failed to find solutions, the voices for conservation grew louder.

In a December 12 letter to the Bureau of Reclamation, Save the Colorado director Gary Wockner urged the health of the river, not just the water supply.

“Second, we strongly encourage you to consider and adopt long-term, equitable, and sustainable solutions that actually solve the problems on the Colorado River, rather than kicking the can out for a few years by simply following the tentative guidelines.” from 2007,” Wockner wrote. “All climate science indicates that the future of the Colorado River is likely to experience significantly and consistently lower discharges, possibly reflecting some of the lowest hydrologies on record, like 2021. You need to prepare for ‘worst-case scenarios’ and with that.” evade. “

Wockner has suggested that a “one reservoir” system would work better, filling Lake Mead and relegating Glen Canyon Dam to a “flood control” function – essentially draining Lake Powell.

Kyle Roerink, executive director of conservation group Great Basin Water Network, told 8 News Now in late December: “The purpose of our collective effort – funded by large taxpayer dollars – should not be just to fill reservoirs. It has to be about changing behaviors.”

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) told the Los Angeles Times that the river crisis “won’t be such a difficult math problem” if the region worked together on plans for reductions. He pointed out that farming uses about 80% of water, “so farming is the big knob we can turn.”

An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land about the size of a football field and a foot deep. According to some estimates, the average household uses between half and one acre foot of water per year for both indoor and outdoor use.