Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Conferences describe Colorado River action as ‘absolutely serious’

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The first week of 2023 will be crucial as Southwest U.S. states and water agencies agree on how to use less water from the drought-stricken and rapidly shrinking Colorado River, a top federal water body. the manager said on Friday.

“The coming three months are absolutely critical,” US Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Boudreau told the Colorado River Users’ Association conventions as he kicked off three-day annual meetings in Las Vegas.

“To be clear, the challenge is extraordinary,” Boudreau said of the two decades of western drought that scientists now attribute to long-term, human-caused climate change. “Science tells us this is our new reality.”

Boudreau closed the conference with a call on water managers, administrators and individuals throughout the West “to develop solutions to help us all overcome the crisis.”

The first deadline is next Tuesday, when the federal Bureau of Reclamation ends taking public comments on an effort by summer to draw up a plan on how to split at least 15% of the reduced river water use among recipients in seven western US states. Became, 30 Native American tribes and Mexico.

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The states have until the end of January to come to an agreement. A preliminary report is expected in the spring.

At stake is drinking water for 40 million people; hydroelectric power for regional markets; and irrigation for farmers cultivating the millions of acres of former desert that produce most of the country’s winter vegetables.

Options ranging from voluntary agreements between competing interests to use less, to drastic top-down federal cuts in water distribution – are affecting cities including perhaps Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego.

New data and charts from Wednesday at the workshop and panel demonstrated the problem again and again: Less water flows into the river in the so-called upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming than is drawn in by the lower. Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

The states share the water under an interstate agreement reached 100 years ago that capped the amount of water the basin receives annually, mostly through snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains.

In recent years, as drought has increased, interim agreements have been made for lower basin states to share cutbacks. The most affected are the farmers of Arizona.

But continued drought has reduced the largest reservoirs in the river to unprecedented low levels. Combined, Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam on the Nevada–Arizona state line and Lake Powell formed by Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona–Utah line were at 92% capacity in 1999. Today, they’re at 26%.

River water managers at the US Bureau of Reclamation have warned that the surface level of Lake Powell could drop so low in the next few months that the intake for the hydroelectric turbines at Glen Canyon Dam could dry up.

The term “dead pool” surfaced this week as officials described the possibility that lake levels could drop so low that no dams would be able to release water downstream.

Questions surfaced as ideas including lining and covering the canals were floated — as well as an accounting from the top Las Vegas-area water manager for at least how much water has been lost to seepage and evaporation.

However, most discussions focused on conservation to maintain water levels in the two reservoirs.

Last month, 30 agencies that supply water to homes and businesses across the region joined in banning ornamental lawns in the Las Vegas area that no one walks on.

This week, the Upper Basin states announced a program to pay farmers to fallow fields so they need less water.

“I can feel the anxiety and uncertainty in this room, and in the basin, as we look at the river and the hydrology that we face,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, asking if water users don So with the power to act ‘t.

US Sen. Mark Kelly, Democrat of Arizona and former astronaut, said, “If a solution is not developed by the basin, Commissioner Touton will figure it out for us.” through the Grand Canyon.

Representatives from Mexico and the International Boundary and Waters Commission were also among speakers at the conference-closing at the Caesars Palace resort on the Las Vegas Strip.

“There are many questions; What, how,” Touton said before ending—using Spanish and then English—with an encouraging, “Let’s get it done together.”

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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