Colorado River: ‘You have to talk about governance, you have to talk about agriculture’ — Doug Kenney #ColoradoRiver


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

Water managers in the Southwest are considering all sorts of options to address what is expected to become a huge shortage of water in the Colorado River Basin. But one path they haven’t explored in detail is a fundamental re-allocation of water between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states.

That reluctance is understandable. Since 1922, the Colorado River Compact has functioned to the satisfaction of all the states using Colorado River Water. But persistently lower-than-average flows, the looming threat of an overall shortage and the uncertainties of climate change may require a new way of thinking, said Doug Kenney, head of the Colorado River Governance Initiative…

“Any proposals like mine that talks about the law of the river and delivery obligations, were all lumped in together and set aside, They don’t fit in,” Kenney said, referring to the basin study. “The Bureau of Reclamation would have done a lot more left to their own devices. But states didn’t want to talk about it … But with every passing year, you have to talk about governance, you have to talk about agriculture,” he said.
The demand-cap option is designed to avoid a fight over the question of whether the Upper Basin has a legal obligation to deliver a certain amount of water downstream to the Lower Basin in a year when there’s just not enough water to go around.

Some language in the compact suggests the answer is yes, but there’s also an overall theme of equity, and enough murkiness to leave room for a legal challenge, which would almost certainly be triggered by a compact call.

Kenney said it might better to address the question ahead of time within the framework of a negotiation that would lower the amount the Upper Basin is obligated to deliver, while helping ensure certain storage levels in Lake Powell and providing a guarantee that there would be no call from the Lower Basin that would put some Upper Basin users at risk.

“There is no way to allocate water differently between the two basins that results in a net basinwide gain in water availability; it is a zero sum effort. But there are ways to allocate water that balances the risk of climate-related shortages more equitably between basins, and which have the benefit of replacing uncertainty with certainty.” Kenney and his co-authors wrote in the demand-cap analysis.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

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