Bruce Babbitt and Brian Richter: Saving The Colorado River — The Salt Lake Tribune #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Some of the snowmelt flowing in the Blue River as it joins the Colorado River near Kremmling, Colo., will reach the Lower Basin states. Dec. 3, 2019. Credit: Mitch Tobin, the Water Desk

Click the link to read the opinion piece on The Salt Lake Tribune website (Bruce Babbitt and Brian Richter). Here’s an excerpt:

Water managers and political leaders are attempting to stave off [water] bankruptcy by juggling water balances among the reservoirs, by holding back and delaying water releases and by looking to cloudless skies for relief that is not coming. As the crisis deepens these short-term patches will no longer suffice. The only way to secure the future is to devise a long-term plan to balance our accounts, to withdraw and use only that amount of water that the river provides each year. For a long-term sustainable plan, the states will need to build upon existing drought response measures agreed to in 2019, called the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). The DCP has two parts: one governing the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada and another for the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico.

Signing ceremony for the Colorado River upper and lower basin Drought Contingency Plans. Back Row Left to Right: James Eklund (CO), John D’Antonio (NM), Pat Tyrell (WY), Eric Melis (UT), Tom Buschatzke (AZ), Peter Nelson (CA), John Entsminger (NV), Front Row: Brenda Burman (US), and from DOI – Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tim Petty. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

The Lower Basin DCP sets out a schedule for California, Arizona and Nevada to achieve balance by reducing their use by 1.4 million acre-feet each year. To date these three states are less than halfway toward that target, having reduced withdrawals from Lake Mead by only 533,000 acre-feet each year. The DCP delays the remaining cuts by allowing the three states to continue depleting reserves in Lake Mead until the lake level approaches dead pool, at which point both power production and downstream releases are in jeopardy. The time for taking these risks, wagering that drought relief will soon arrive, is over. The Lower Basin states must agree to a definite timeline for making the remaining reductions.

The Upper Basin is even farther behind. The Upper Basin states have yet to set reduction targets, or even to agree on a procedure for making cuts.

Meanwhile the crisis deepens at Lake Powell, where waters have fallen to a level that threatens both power production and the integrity of the dam structure itself. A recent analysis by the Utah Rivers Council (“A Future on Borrowed Time”) demonstrates that Upper Basin states are presently diverting 500,000 acre-feet per annum more water than can be sustainably withdrawn under existing rules. If the Upper Basin states cannot soon reach agreement on necessary reductions, all options must be on the table. The federal Bureau of Reclamation has the regulatory authority to intervene to reduce water deliveries to federal irrigation projects in the Upper Basin states. Such an intervention in water allocation decisions, normally left to the states, would be unprecedented and unwelcome, but these are times that call for forceful action.

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