From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Tom Buschatzke):
This opinion piece was penned by Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources; L. James Eklund, Colorado state representative on Colorado River issues; Peter Nelson, chairman of the board of the California Water Service Group; John J. Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority; John R. D’Antonio Jr., state engineer of New Mexico; Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources; Pat Tyrrell, state engineer of Wyoming; Matt Rice, Colorado basin director at American Rivers; David O’Neill, Chief Conservation Officer at the National Audubon Society; Maurice Hall, associate vice president, ecosystems – water at the Environmental Defense Fund; Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director at The Nature Conservancy; Scott Yates, director of the Western Water and Habitat Program at Trout Unlimited; Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer at The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director at Western Resource Advocates
Last week, the seven Colorado River basin states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — sent a letter to Congress calling for federal legislation to authorize the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Congressional House and Senate committees are holding hearings on the plan. It’s a historic moment for a river that supports two countries, seven states, 40 million people, 5.5 million acres of agricultural land, 22 federally recognized tribes, 11 national parks, seven wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, and seven endangered species.
In recent days, there have been contentions that the DCP has left a major factor out of the equation: the Salton Sea, California’s largest inland lake. But this simply is not the case.
Preserving the health and the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River is one of the most important issues we face in the United States. The DCP is a mitigation plan to avoid catastrophic water supply shortages in the western United States, and is the result of a years-long, state-driven process conducted during the previous and current federal administrations. The DCP is designed so that users agree to leave more water in the Colorado River system by reducing the use of this imperiled resource. The DCP has received broad support from the seven Colorado River basin states, many Native American tribes that depend on the river, and a wide array of environmental groups and agencies.
From its inception, the DCP was designed to function within rigorous environmental analysis review and permitting processes that have already been completed.
The Imperial Irrigation District has yet to sign on to the DCP. The DCP has an on-ramp for IID’s participation if they change their minds. But with or without IID’s participation, the DCP will not adversely impact the Salton Sea—a fact acknowledged by IID at a September 2018 Board of Directors meeting, among others.
Is the Salton Sea imperiled? Yes. People and wildlife are at risk as the sea’s receding shoreline generates public health issues, among other undesirable environmental outcomes. Nearly $280 million in California funding is currently available to initiate dust control and habitat restoration efforts to begin addressing these issues today. The proposed DCP actions are not the cause of the Salton Sea’s problems nor will they exacerbate the situation in any way when implemented.
In recent years, the Colorado River has become imperiled by a historic, unprecedented drought that has caused Lake Powell and Lake Mead to plummet from nearly full to just 40 percent of their full capacity. If no action is taken to preserve the river system, these reservoirs will continue to decline, threatening the ability to deliver water to tens of millions of people in the United States and Mexico. If that happens, the current issues will become dwarfed by many unimaginable and unsolvable crisis points. It is this eventuality the DCP is specifically designed to prevent.
All seven Colorado River basin states and the NGO partners remain supportive of the need to solve the Salton Sea’s environmental challenges. The States and undersigned NGOs recognize and support California’s current Salton Sea Management Plan to mitigate its decline and manage the sea over the next decade. But attempting to delay or derail the DCP, a critical action to preserve the lifeblood of the entire American Southwest, is not the right way to achieve that solution.
Undoubtedly, the Salton Sea needs a lifeline through swift actions, and the Colorado River needs a lifeline through swift approval of the Drought Contingency Plan in Congress.