Rocky Mountain water managers wrestle with Colorado River “grand bargain” |

Rocky Mountain water managers wrestle with Colorado River “grand bargain”

Denver Post
The Colorado River flows near the Bair Ranch rest area in Glenwood Canyon on Thursday, August 22, 2019. The river’s water is divvied up among seven western states under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Rocky Mountain water managers worried about climate-driven depletion across the Colorado River Basin are mulling a “grand bargain” that would overhaul obligations among seven southwestern states for sharing the river’s water.

This reflects rising concerns that dry times could turn disastrous. An enshrined legal right of California and lower-basin states to demand more Colorado River water could imperil half of Denver’s water supply.

The grand bargain concept arose from increasing anxiety in booming Colorado and the other upper-basin states — New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — about their plight of being legally roped into sending more water downriver, even if dry winters, new population growth and development made that impossible without shutting faucets.

California, Arizona and Nevada, the lower-basin states that for years have siphoned more than their allotted one-half share of river water, face greater uncertainty and painful weaning from overuse.

Total water is decreasing in the 1,450-mile river, which trickles from high mountain snow northwest of Denver and carves canyons up to a mile deep. Over the last 15 years, amid a climate shift toward aridity, warming has reduced the river’s flows by at least 6%, according to research based on federal hydrology and temperature data.

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