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British Columbia

Arizona, other states propose Colorado River cuts; California pushes back – Cronkite News

Divers survey the Wahweap Boat Ramp on Lake Powell in July 2021 as falling low lake levels pulled the water’s edge back from the end of the ramp. State and federal officials are scrambling to develop plans to protect the river and its reservoirs, which have been hit by a historic drought. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

WASHINGTON — Federal officials said they will consider a plan by Arizona and five other Colorado River basin states on how to further reduce water use, though the largest user in the basin — California — has not signed it.

California released its own plan late Tuesday in response to the six-state proposal that wrongly forced California to shoulder many of the cuts by counting water losses through evaporation and carry-over, which “directly contradicts … existing laws.” stand.

The six-state proposal came Monday, just a day before a Bureau of Reclamation deadline for states to submit their own plan or risk having one imposed on them. Experts said California was part of those negotiations but “just disagreed with the way the model was developed.”

The states’ proposal does not allocate specific cuts to specific states or users, but it is an acknowledgment by the six states – Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming – that the current drought-related usage restrictions were made in a 2007 agreement are simply not sufficient in the current climate crisis.

“We recognize that over the past 20+ years, far less water is entering the Colorado River system than is leaving it, and we have virtually run out of reservoirs to deplete,” the agreement reads. which the states refer to as a consensus-based modeling alternative.

The plan aims to protect the water level in Lake Powell by raising the level at which current water reduction plans would trigger.

It would also raise the thresholds at Lake Mead and requires an additional 1.543 million acre-ft of “evaporative and systemic losses” to be absorbed by the state if the lake falls below 1,145 feet. The lake stood at 1,046 this week, according to Bureau of Reclamation data.

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In its plan, California said the proposed new method of apportioning the cuts based on system and evaporative losses “would direct the majority of the water usage reductions required in the lower basin to California’s water users,” contrary to current river-use laws.

The six-state plan also proposes reductions of 250,000 acre-feet if Lake Mead falls below 1,030 feet and 200,000 acre-feet if it falls below 1,020 feet. In each of these cases, California would bear 59% of the cuts, Arizona 37%, and Nevada the remaining 4%.

The plans are intended to guide the Bureau of Reclamation in preparing an environmental impact statement on the impact of changes to river water management and dam regulations on the Colorado River, to be released this spring. Those changes could be finalized this fall, a Home Office spokesman said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“This collaborative complementary process is our most immediate immediate tool to enhance and protect the near-term sustainability of the Colorado River System by arming the Bureau of Reclamation with additional alternatives and tools needed to reduce the likelihood of sustained low-flow conditions.” across the basin over the next two years,” the statement said.

It comes as the Southwest is locked in a historic two-decade drought that has lowered the level of the Colorado River and its reservoirs to dangerously low levels. More than 40 million people rely on water from the river, which powers hydroelectric power plants that generate electricity for customers in seven states and parts of Mexico.

While the state’s plan can give the federal government a roadmap for allocating future water cuts, experts say there is still work to be done in what’s been described as a “very complicated situation.”

“The hard part is yet to come,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. “The likelihood of an agreement on cuts for water users that water users will agree to is still slim.”

Interior Department spokesman Tyler Cherry said future negotiations will involve not only state and federal officials, but other stakeholders such as tribes, farmers, water managers, irrigation companies and more to create a plan that has so much support and consensus has as possible.

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Requests for comment from California’s Colorado River Board were not immediately answered Tuesday. But Cynthia Campbell, Phoenix’s water resources management consultant, said one of the challenges states must address is California’s disagreement over water reduction strategy.

“As far as I know, California has always been in the negotiations. They were at the table, so they weren’t left out,” Campbell said. “They just didn’t agree with the way the model was developed. I’m not sure they liked the idea of ​​evaporative losses.”

In a press release announcing the agreement Monday, Arizona Department of Water Director Tom Buschatzke called the model “an important step in the ongoing dialogue between the seven basin states.” Brenda Burman, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which transports water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson, said in the same press release that the plan is a critical step in “laying the groundwork in the search for permanent long-term solutions.” water crisis in the region.

One thing the plan doesn’t address, Campbell said, is how climate change combined with cyclical drought and excessive water use could adversely affect water levels. She thinks it’s a mistake.

“We think that to some extent, that should be accounted for because you could have a situation that was never intended,” Campbell said of the effects of climate change. “People could be permanently cut off from the fact that the river just isn’t delivering the allotted amount.”

The agreement carefully notes that “negotiations to implement measures contemplated by this CBMA … are ongoing and in many cases have not yet begun” between states and other stakeholders. Porter agreed that there is still a lot of planning and negotiation to do.

“There is no agreement on how additional cuts would feel distributed there. And that’s the hardest part,” Porter said. “So in the state of Arizona, we would have to … approve the legislature and have the governor sign off on amendments to the Colorado Compact.”

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