Colorado River Basin: ‘There are no innocent parties’ — Pat Mulroy (Southern Nevada Water Authority)

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Here’s the first installment of the Deseret News’ (Amy Joi O’Donoghue) series about, “the impacts of the West’s shrinking water supply and the costly battle to find solutions.” Ms. O’Donoghue is a terrific writer so be sure to click through and read the whole article and check out the photo slideshow. Here’s an excerpt:

“There are no innocent parties,” said Nevada’s Pat Mulroy, who manages a water-delivery system for more than two thirds of her state’s residents. “No one on the river has the luxury of doing nothing.”

The reason? Colorado River flows are shrinking…

Ensuring the availability of water is among Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s highest priorities. “It is the only limiting factor to growth in Utah,” the governor said. “We’re going to have to worry about loss of flow and less capacity and volume in the river.”[…]

With this past winter’s snowpack well below average for the Colorado basin states — dipping down at 50 percent or below of what states normally get — this year is shaping up to be near-record setting for drought for the Colorado River system in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico…

The two largest reservoirs in the system, Lake Mead in Nevada and Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona, have been experiencing drastic declines. It took 19 years to fill Lake Mead to a level of 24 million acre-feet in 1998, but by 2007, the lake’s level had already decreased 54 percent. Mead supplies water to Las Vegas and surrounding communities — two-thirds of Nevada’s population…

Lake Powell, behind the Glen Canyon Dam, is experiencing a similar situation. It took 17 years to fill Lake Powell to its full capacity of 27 million acre-feet, and in just six years, between 1999 and 2005, the level of the lake was reduced by 60 percent.

The latest numbers projecting the volume of this year’s runoff into Lake Powell show that in only two other years — 1977 and 2002 — was there less water, leaving water managers to yearn for the conditions of last year, which was the third wettest on record since the gates at Glen Canyon Dam were closed in the mid-1960s.

“Never in the historic record have we seen a swing in hydrology from wet to dry of this magnitude,” said Rick Clayton, hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation…

“The biggest hazard in my mind is that people don’t take this problem of future imbalances seriously,” [Malcolm Wilson, chief of water resources with the Bureau of Reclamation] said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

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