West wrestles with #ColoradoRiver “grand bargain” as changing climate depletes water governed by 1922 compact — The Denver Post

In 1922, Federal and State representatives met for the Colorado River Compact Commission in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Among the attendees were Arthur P. Davis, Director of Reclamation Service, and Herbert Hoover, who at the time, was the Secretary of Commerce. Photo taken November 24, 1922. USBR photo.

Here’s an in-depth look at governance in the Colorado River Basin in the coming years from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The grand bargain concept arose from increasing anxiety in booming Colorado and the other upper-basin states — New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — about their plight of being legally roped into sending more water downriver, even if dry winters, new population growth and development made that impossible without shutting faucets…

Total water is decreasing in the 1,450-mile river, which trickles from high mountain snow northwest of Denver and carves canyons up to a mile deep. Over the last 15 years, amid a climate shift toward aridity, warming has reduced the river’s flows by at least 6%, according to research based on federal hydrology and temperature data.

Yet the Colorado River remains the primary water source for an expanding population of 40 million people and 90% of the nation’s winter vegetable production — one of the most over-allocated rivers in the world, with water taken out each year exceeding natural flows from rain and snow.

The grand bargain would remove the legal right to “call,” or demand, more water during dry times that was established by the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

Colorado farmers and Front Range cities no longer would face the threat of downriver states legally mandating that more water be left in the river, forcing shut-offs. In return, lower-basin states would be guaranteed a set amount, possibly less than what they’re currently using, and gain time to stop their steady draw-down of the Lake Mead reservoir, which remains less than half full even after a wet winter. The upriver Lake Powell reservoir, also less than half full, would serve as storage to help lower states adjust to living on less water…

California officials this week indicated an interest in exploring new ways to address climate warming impacts. But Chris Harris, director of the Colorado River Board of California, told The Denver Post his state is not ready to discuss any specific bargain that would require giving up a legal right to “call” for more water. And John Entsminger, manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority manager and his state’s chief negotiator, questioned how the bargain would help the lower states.

The serious behind-the-scenes contemplation of this bargain “reflects the current conditions on the river — the extended drought we’ve been through, the speed at which the system has gone down, the reality of a warming climate and what that is going to mean for flows,” said Jim Lochhead, the manager of Denver Water who previously served as Colorado’s director of natural resources and represented the state in river negotiations with other western states.

While Lochhead discussed the bargain in an interview with the Post, he said he hasn’t taken a formal position supporting any specific proposal.

“What we need is some kind of arrangement that gives the lower basin time to manage demands and solve their structural deficit problems” — overuse — “and also provide some assurance, in exchange for that time, to the upper basin that we are not going to be facing a legal crisis in the form of a compact ‘call’ or some type of curtailment,” Lochhead said.

“From a Colorado perspective, my interest would be that Western Slope irrigated agriculture and the economy on the Western Slope be protected, and, obviously, that Front Range municipalities that rely on the Colorado River be protected in our water supplies. … That would be our starting point,” he said.

“Given the status of the reservoirs. … the speed at which Powell and Mead have dropped, we don’t have the luxury to take a lot of time and deal around the edges of the problems. We need to think about some bigger, and different, solution to resolve the deficit that is staring us all in the face.”

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