Most Colorado River states agree on water cuts

Six out of seven Colorado River basin states have agreed on a series of cuts aimed at salvaging the crumbling river system and preventing the collapse of Lake Mead and Lake Powell — with one very notable state missing from the agreement: California .

Representatives from Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming on Monday sent a letter to Interior Department and Bureau of Reclamation officials outlining a proposal that they believe would improve power generation and water supply at the two major dams in the world Protecting the Colorado River would prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from hitting Dead Pool, the point at which water can no longer flow through the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams.

But California, which receives the largest share of water from the river among states, was absent from the list of states that signed the letter.

“While our goal remains to achieve a seven-state agreement, the development and delivery of this consensus-based alternative is a positive step forward in a multi-phased environmental assessment process critical to protecting the Colorado River system,” said John Entsminger, Southern Nevada Water Authority director general, in a statement.

JB Hamby, chair of the Colorado River Board of California and state Colorado River commissioner, said California plans to come up with its own proposal for an alternative way to reduce water use by 2026 and put the legal personality of the plan proposed by the other six states in Question.

“At this time, the modeling proposal presented by the six other basin states is inconsistent with the law of the river and does not form a consensus approach for seven states,” Hamby said in a statement.

Last year, California committed to increasing its annual allocation of 4.4 million acre-feet from the river by 400,000 acre-feet, or about 9 percent, for four years beginning this year as part of an agreement with the federal government to provide funding for the Salton Sea to reduce restoration efforts.

“California remains focused on practical solutions that can be implemented now to protect stored water resources without causing conflict and litigation,” Hamby said. “We hope that constructive dialogue and mutual understanding between the Basin States and the United States will continue, only to the benefit of the Colorado River system and all who rely on it.”

work together

The six states asked federal agencies to consider their proposed alternative as part of the government’s ongoing review of current drought mitigation policies as they work towards significantly more aggressive measures to limit water use along the river, whose water supply has been affected by two decades of drought has fallen sharply and chronic overuse.

But the states make it clear in the letter and in an accompanying announcement that the proposal is not a formal agreement between the states at this point. The negotiations, the letter says, are “not yet complete and in many cases have not yet begun.”

“We recognize that over the past 20+ years, far less water has entered the Colorado River system than has left it, and we have virtually run out of reservoirs to deplete,” the statement reads Letters from the States. “Accordingly, we will continue to work with the federal government, water users, Basin Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, and other Colorado River stakeholders to build consensus on how best to share the burden of protecting the system from which we are all descended so.” many advantages.”

Closing date is Tuesday

The letter comes just a day before a kind of deadline set by the federal government as part of the bureau’s call to action for states to find ways to reduce Colorado River water use by up to 30 percent starting this year.

Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton in June told states they must find a way to reduce water use along the river by 2 million to 4 million acres to prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from sinking to levels that would jeopardize hydroelectric power generation and water supply capacity along a river that serves 40 million people in the west, including about 90 percent of southern Nevada’s water.

Negotiations between the states became strained at times, including allegations of drought profits and a refusal by companies to negotiate in good faith.

After states failed to provide a plan by last fall, the Bureau of Reclamation began revising management guidelines for Lake Mead and Lake Powell for the 2023 and 2024 water years in November to prevent the lakes from collapsing further. In follow-up meetings to that process, Reclamation officials laid out three avenues the agency intends to explore to move forward, one of which was a plan developed by the states in the Colorado River basin.

For such a state-run plan to be analyzed alongside the bureau’s own alternatives, a plan must be agreed by the end of January, according to the agency. The Office expects a draft of this study to be released this spring, with a final decision on how to implement these basin-wide reductions sometime in August.

Proposal details

The proposed alternative, outlined in the state letters, includes cuts that would nearly reach the lower limit of 2 million acre-feet that federal officials said were needed, while accelerating cuts made under previous drought measures agreed to trigger them at higher altitudes.

Virtually all of the mandatory cuts outlined would be in the lower basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California. The states in the upper basin — Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado — do not have mandatory cuts lasting several weeks.

Specifically, the proposal calls for accounting for more than 1.5 million acre-feet of water lost annually to evaporation and other system losses, a concept put forward by the Southern Nevada Water Authority last year and supported by several other states in the entire basin. Accounting for this lost water would effectively act as a cut in water allocations, and more than half of that would come from the California allocation.

It also calls for an additional 250,000 acre-feet of combined cuts to Nevada, Arizona and California if Lake Mead is below 1,030 feet elevation, and an additional 200,000 acre-feet of combined cuts in those states if the reservoir is below 1,020 feet.

A decision will be made in the coming months as to whether the cuts outlined in the proposal are sufficient to secure the river system and to meet the federal government’s wishes.

More cuts for Nevada

Nevada receives 300,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River annually, an amount that has been reduced to 275,000 under current shortage conditions triggered by falling Lake Mead levels. The letter outlines an additional 18,000 acre-feet cuts for Nevada.

At the local level, Southern Nevada has successfully implemented various water conservation measures since the onset of the drought, reducing water use by nearly 100,000 acre-feet annually while adding approximately 750,000 new residents over the past two decades.

“Nevada’s water conservation efforts over the past few decades have positioned our state to absorb further reasonable cuts in Colorado River allocations without jeopardizing our state’s economic future,” Gov. Joe Lombardo said in a statement. “I am confident that this framework will result in a prosperous future for all river users.”

But others fear that the cuts proposed in the letter, if implemented, will still not be enough to halt the decline of the crumbling river and its two major reservoirs.

Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said the lack of mandatory cuts in the upper basin shows the difficulty of the negotiations and shows the need for a more public discussion as part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s review process.

“We’re far from finished. This plan does not currently take into account the next 50 to 100 years down the river,” Roerink said. “This is a makeshift to get us through the next two years. This isn’t the beginning of the end. It’s just the end of the beginning.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at [email protected] consequences @ColtonLochhead on twitter.

Consolidated SEIS letter – … by Colton Lochhead