In Lower #ColoradoRiver Basin, Small Fixes Are Hoped to Avoid the Big Fix — Colorado Public Radio #COriver

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

From Rocky Mountain PBS (Jim Trotter):

The river system, with its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, has been stressed by drought since 2000. The most recent national climate assessment for the Southwest forecasts that the country’s hottest and driest region can only expect more of the same.

“This may be what the start of a water war looks like,” suggested a recent story in the Los Angeles Time.

The story by ace writer William Yardley focuses on negotiations between the lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada to voluntarily reduce withdrawals from Lake Mead in order to forestall the mandatory, more drastic cutbacks that most likely would come with a federal declaration.

Yardley calls the approach “tinkering.”

But Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources and one of the senior water managers on the river, says, “I like to describe this as another incremental step.”

The question is, can incremental steps preserve the governance of the river pretty much as is, defined by the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and modified by numerous laws and court decisions since?

“I don’t think a water war is inevitable,” Buschatzke tells Yardley.

The upper basin states generally and Colorado particularly are not as in dire shape as the lower basin states. As we’ve said before, Colorado has almost been in a bubble the past couple of years – average to above average snowpack, strong runoffs, filled reservoirs. But if water runs short for 25 million people in the lower basin, many of whom are in Southern California, no one can expect to remain untouched.

Yardley seems to admire the Arizona approach.

“But for Buschatzke,” he writes, “who has spent decades efficiently providing water for a desert population – Arizona uses less water now than it did 60 years ago even though the population has soared from 1.1 million to 6.7 million – the big fix is actually in the accumulation of all the little fixes he and others are constantly making. A federal grant for new technology that will better measure water use. Paying a farmer to fallow a field. Saying nice things about your colleagues across the state line and the fine folks in Washington. Keeping things collegial. Sharing. Saving. Preserving the process – and the peace.”

Obviously better than a new water war.

Delph Carpenter's 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell
Delph Carpenter’s 1922 Colorado River Basin map with Lake Mead and Lake Powell

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