Wednesday, October 10, 2018

States OK drought contingency plans for Colorado River

"States that rely on the shrinking supply of water from the Colorado River have released drafts of a set of agreements intended to prevent reservoirs on the river from falling to perilously low levels," Ian James reports for the Arizona Republic. "The documents, which were released Tuesday, lay out a framework for cuts in water deliveries to prop up the levels of the river’s two biggest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell."

Under the Colorado River Compact, first established in 1922, use of the river's waters is divided among seven states (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming) and Mexico. When the compact was renegotiated last year, the U.S. and Mexico extended a previous agreement that both countries will cut back on water use if the river runs low. This proposal fleshes out how those cutbacks will be implemented.

State water managers began meeting in July to hammer out the details of the drought plan. Arizona is still working on in-negotiations about how its water cutbacks will be spread among cities, farms and tribes, but federal officials hope to have an overall deal finished by mid-December, when the Colorado River Water Users Association's will have its annual conference, James reports.

Once the Lower Colorado Basin states sign the proposed agreement, Mexico will be obliged to create its own plan to help increase water levels in Lake Mead, which is now 38 percent full. The plans may need to be put to use soon. "Federal officials have said the region will narrowly escape a shortage in 2019 but that a shortage may be declared in 2020," James reports. And Ted Kowalski of the Walton Family Foundation's Colorado River Initiative, noted that "2018 has been one of the river’s driest years on record, and combined storage levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at their lowest point in roughly 50 years."

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