Monday, April 15, 2024

With fresh strategies, states along the Colorado River are staking out positions on who should deal with upcoming reductions in water, setting the stage for disagreements

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Seven states in the Western U.S. are figuring out how to use less water from the Colorado River as the region gets warmer and drier. The river is crucial for drinking water, farming, and electricity in the West. Big reservoirs like lakes Powell and Mead dropped a lot in 2021 and 2022, but a snowy winter in 2022 helped. Farmers and cities also used less water. Now, the states have more time to decide how to share the river after 2026.

The problem is, the states don’t agree on who should cut back if the river’s water levels drop more. The river is shrinking, and scientists say it’s flowing 20% less than in the early 1900s. Climate change has taken out over 10 trillion gallons of water in the last 20 years. Plans from the states suggest cutting up to 4 million acre-feet of water each year in the worst-case scenario. But they disagree on whether all seven states should share the cuts.

One plan says the lower basin states should take mandatory cuts if Lake Mead drops to a certain level, and upper basin states can take voluntary cuts. The other plan wants to watch water levels in seven reservoirs and cut water based on that. If levels drop below 69%, California, Arizona, and Nevada take the cuts. If it’s below 38%, all seven states, plus Mexico, share the cuts.

Arizona says the upper basin plan puts too much burden on them, while California wants all seven states to share reductions. The federal government manages the lower basin but not the upper basin. There’s a call for all seven states to work together and find a solution that the federal government will approve by the end of 2026.

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