Southwestern US states get Jan. 31 deadline for drought deal
LAS VEGAS (AP) —
The head of the federal agency controlling the Colorado River said Thursday the U.S. government will impose unprecedented restrictions on water supplies to the seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the river unless everyone agrees by Jan. 31 on a plan to deal with an expected shortage in 2020.
Water users from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming should have had a pact to sign at an annual water users’ conference this week in Las Vegas, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said.
They didn’t. However, a flurry of approvals in several states in recent weeks signaled urgency and set a stage for an overall agreement to use less water from a river beset by drought and locked into promises to deliver more water than it takes in.
Burman identified California and Arizona as the holdouts.
“Close isn’t ‘done,’ ” she told a standing-room crowd at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference at a Las Vegas Strip resort. “Only ‘done’ will protect this basin.”
The river that carries winter snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico is plumbed with dams to generate hydropower and meter water releases. It provides drinking water to 40 million people and cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas. It irrigates crops in wide areas once deemed as reclaimed desert in the U.S. and Mexico.
The keys to contingency plans are voluntary agreements to use less water than users are allocated from the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell behind the Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona-Utah state line and Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam just east of Las Vegas.
Lake Powell is currently at 43 percent capacity; Lake Mead at 38 percent.
To date, entities including agricultural districts and municipal suppliers in five states have reached what Burman characterized as a complex puzzle of agreements.
Indian tribes also are involved, and Burman on Thursday announced publication of a report called the Colorado River Basin Ten Tribes Partnership Tribal Water Study . It charts water claims and use by tribes that hold rights to divert almost 20 percent of the water in the river.
A drought-shortage declaration next year would cut 11.4 percent of Arizona’s usual river water allocation beginning in 2020, and 4.3 percent of Nevada’s share. That amount of water, combined, would serve more than 625,000 homes. California would voluntarily reduce its Colorado River use by about 6 percent.