From The Las Vegas Sun (Jessica Hill):
A major conference on Colorado River water issues last week in Las Vegas revealed signs of progress in protecting the West’s dwindling water supply, notably a new agreement between Nevada, Arizona and California that will ease the burden on Lake Mead.
But the gathering of water officials, conservationists, tribal leaders, state and local officials and others also pointed out the depth of the developing crisis, with even the headlining multistate pact raising questions about whether it was a Band-Aid over a gouging wound, and pointed to the complexities involved in a long-term solution.
Experts across the board, from scientists to water commissioners to government officials, are brainstorming the many possible solutions, from small ones such as cutting down on water-sucking landscape to larger ones like completely removing dams and decommissioning the lakes.
“It’s going to take ingenuity, money and cooperation to find those projects throughout the basin, regardless of how big or small they are,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of water resources at the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA)…
Leaders say they made some progress at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference at Caesars Palace, including signing the memorandum of understanding known as the “500+ Plan” that will save 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead in 2022 and 2023 and includes plans for further conservation going into 2026. Through a $200 million partnership between the U.S. Department of Interior, Arizona, Nevada and California, communities that cut down on their water and implement water-saving technologies can get paid.
SNWA has been successful in prohibiting the installation of nonfunctional turf and new golf courses. It is also working on stopping “evaporative cooling” technologies that represent the largest consumptive water use next to irrigation, and limiting the sizes of swimming pools to no more than 3,000 square feet, Pelligrino said. Pools lose more than 145,000 gallons of water a year through evaporation.
The U.S. and Mexico also entered into an agreement at the conference, establishing a binational contingency plan that goes over how Mexico and the U.S., which holds 1,500,000 acre-feet of water for Mexico, will work together to conserve water and find solutions.
“This is a small direction, but I think it’s symbolic of the need for collaboration and partnership. We can’t do it alone,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, at the conference Thursday. “What we need is multiple solutions, not one single solution.”
Another radical step would be to completely scrap the Colorado River Compact, known as the “law of the river,” said Daniel McCool, a political science professor at the University of Utah who studies water policy as well as problems with the Colorado River.
“You no longer have a law of the river that looks anything like what’s actually happening in the basin,” McCool said. “What’s really happening in the basin is a whole new era of reallocation. … This is an opportunity to develop a whole new approach to developing a plan for the Colorado River Basin.”
But coming up with a new compact among seven states — each with their own state senate, assembly and governor that would need to approve it — and the federal government would not be feasible, Pellegrino said. Many leaders do not think scrapping the whole contract is necessary, as they’ve learned to adapt and make do with what they have.
“I don’t know that reopening and renegotiating the 1922 compact is the answer,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Colorado River Authority of Utah during the conference. “We’ve learned to work with what we have, and we’ve been largely successful.”
As those short-term solutions are implemented and the bigger-picture possibilities are toyed with, one thing is clear: saving water will have to be a communal effort, Hagekhalil said.
“There’s a different sense of this feeling that we all are connected,” he said. “Although we are apart, water doesn’t know boundaries. … At the end of the day, if one of us is not taken care of, all of us are not taken care of. Everybody has to be a part of it. I think we have to open our minds, our hearts … to work together as one watershed, one basin, one river, one community.”