Western states chart diverging paths as water shortages loom — The Associated Press #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

In a photo from 2020, a distinct line around the rocky shore shows how much the water level has decreased in Nevada’s Lake Mead. Photo credit: Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News

From The Associated Press (Sophia Eppolito and Felicia Fonseca):

As persistent drought and climate change threaten the Colorado River, several states that rely on the water acknowledge they likely won’t get what they were promised a century ago.

But not Utah.

Republican lawmakers approved an entity that could push for more of Utah’s share of water as seven Western states prepare to negotiate how to sustain a river serving 40 million people. Critics say the legislation, which the governor still must sign, could strengthen Utah’s effort to complete a billion-dollar pipeline from a dwindling reservoir that’s a key indicator of the river’s health.

Other states have had similar entities for decades, but Utah’s timing raised questions about its commitment to conservation and finding a more equitable way of surviving with less.

“There’s a massive disconnect all centered around climate change,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, which opposed the legislation. “The other six basin states know the Colorado River is dropping, and they know they have to decrease their usage, while Utah is running around in this fantasy.”

[…]

The six members of the Colorado River Authority of Utah would oversee the state’s negotiations on the drought plan and other rules that expire in 2026. Opponents worry parts of the legislation would allow the authority to avoid scrutiny by keeping some documents secret and permitting closed meetings.

House Speaker Brad Wilson said Utah will pursue conservation, but that alone won’t meet the needs of one of the nation’s fastest-growing states. Utah is entitled to the water under longstanding agreements among the states…

Proposed Lake Powell Pipeline project map via the Washington County Water Conservation District (Utah) as of November 30, 2020.

The bill comes six months after the other states rebuked Utah’s plan to build an underground pipeline that would transport billions of gallons of water 140 miles (225 kilometers) from Lake Powell to a region near St. George, Utah, close to the Arizona border. Other states, such as Colorado and Wyoming, also are pursuing projects to shore up their water supply.

Water experts worry Utah, which experienced its driest year ever in 2020, is banking on water that might not be available and could further deplete Lake Powell. Utah is one of the…upper basin states that get their share of water based on percentages of what’s available but historically haven’t used it all. The lower basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — get specific amounts that are subject to cuts.

Utah plans to tap 400,000 acre-feet of water on top of the 1 million acre-feet it typically uses.

Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Western Water Assessment

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