The Colorado River and its tributaries cross seven states, feed tens of millions of people and generate billions in economic revenue… but the drought-stricken river is at crisis levels.
Low water levels could threaten hydroelectric power generation and normal operations at the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams.
Now negotiations on a consensus-based model between all seven states have stalled.
California, the state with the largest water consumption, is holding back from signing the Supplemental Environment Impact Statement (SEIS).
They plan to file their own terms with the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for setting water use rules in 2023 and 2024.
KTVN spoke to University of Nevada political science professor and water governance expert Elizabeth Koebele, who tells us that bringing the six states together in the SEIS is a step in the right direction, but without California … the process is muddled.
“California is the largest water user and they have the oldest and oldest water rights in the system. So without California involvement it will be extremely complicated to implement anything, it is likely that litigation will ensue. And Nevada’s role in that was really a sort of neutral facilitator and also a leader in the process.”
Of the seven states, the Upper Basin consists of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico. The lower basin is California and Arizona.
Koebele tells us that the lower basin has the oldest water rights in the entire system, so cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix, while using the most water, will be the last areas to face cuts.
Not much pressure is being put on Nevada, however.
“Nevada’s role in this process was really a kind of neutral mediator and also a leader in this process,” said Koebele.
The state already uses the water allocated to it too little
“We are in a unique situation where we can conserve or recycle water, give it back to Lake Mead, and get a loan to essentially withdraw more water from the Colorado River Basin, and we’re the only state that can do that.” can do. ‘ said Koebele.
The 1922 Colorado River Compact made the oldest water rights virtually untouchable.
According to Koebele, many of the compact laws governing the Colorado River expire in 2026, so the agreements currently in place between the seven states should be considered contingency measures until 2026.
Once the pact expires, it could open the floodgates regarding discussions about how much water some states get versus others.