West’s water faces new sharing plan
Vail, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Federal officials plan to publicize their preference for managing the Colorado River in the face of ongoing drought sometime this month as part of the lead-up to a final plan expected by the end of the year.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is working on a final environmental impact statement on dealing with water shortages on the river that provides water to seven Western states and Mexico.
The final guidelines, expected to be released in September, will also look at coordinating operations between Lake Powell, the upstream reservoir in Utah, and Lake Mead in Nevada. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, will make a final decision by the end of the year.
The draft impact statement, released earlier this year, featured five management options but didn’t say which one the federal agency preferred. The draft documents usually identify a preferred alternative.
Terry Fulp of the Bureau of Reclamation and part of the team writing the plan said Wednesday that federal officials didn’t recommend anything because they wanted to give the states and others a chance to weigh in. He said the guidelines might be a blend of the various proposals.
Members of a 1922 compact dividing use of the river are Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California, California and Nevada. This spring, the states negotiated a plan they hope the Interior Department adopts as the new guidelines.
A consortium of environmental groups submitted a separate plan that stresses compensating water users for voluntarily cutting back to spread out the impacts of shortages.
The move to modify the compact follows rising tensions due to a drought gripping the region since 2000. Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton said she wanted a plan for averting shortages by the end of this year after the upper basin states ” Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico ” wanted to reduce water releases from Lake Powell.
Less rain and lower snowpack have decreased flows and lowered the levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell to about half. Melting snow from the mountains provides much of the water in the West.
Fulp said additional moisture in some of the river basins should boost the Colorado River’s flow to about 70 percent of average this season. “We’re still looking at a pretty bleak runoff year,” Fulp added.
In Colorado, where the river starts in the Never Summer Range of the Rockies, snowpack was below the 30-year average in most of the river basins and the snowmelt started early.
Despite that, Fulp said: “We’re still making all our deliveries.”
Water managers in Wyoming and Colorado, though, have said people in their states have faced shortages during the drought. A certain amount of water is due to the lower basin states ” Arizona, California and Nevada ” and people with younger rights on tributaries above the reservoirs get bumped by those with older rights if necessary.
The states’ proposal would allow the upper basin to deliver less water during droughts and includes incentives for conservation, improved efficiency and ways for users to bank water in the reservoirs.
Under the compact, the upper basin states must deliver 75 million acre feet every 10 years to the lower basin states. In practice, at least 8.2 million acre feet of water have been released annually from Lake Powell to Lake Mead since the late 1960s, according to the Salt Lake City-based Upper Colorado River Commission.
California’s share is 4.4 million acre feet, although it used more when there were surpluses.
The rest of the water is split with Colorado getting 51.7 percent; New Mexico, 11.25 percent; Utah, 23 percent; and Wyoming, 14 percent. Mexico is due 1.5 million acre feet a year.
An acre foot of water is about 326,000 gallons, or enough for two households for one year.
Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lakes Powell and Mead:
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