As the #ColoradoRiver is stretched thin by #drought, can the 100-year-old rules that divide it still work? — #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Click the link to read the article on the website (Brandon Loomis). Click through and read the whole article since it captures the current state of the basin from stem to stern. Here’s an excerpt:

From mountain ranches in Wyoming to vegetable fields in Yuma, water users look for ways to keep the Colorado River flowing.

Over time the government built massive dams near Las Vegas and Page to store the water for those big downstream users: a Yuma lettuce field, an Imperial Valley melon patch, the Phoenix suburbs, all stretching toward a desert horizon far from the river’s channel.  But more than two decades into a punishing drought that climate scientists say will likely intensify with more warming, the system can no longer supply everything that some 40 million people in a warming and drying region desire from it, or that grocers nationwide sell from its verdant fields. Since 2000, water demand and evaporation have exceeded the river’s flow, on average, by roughly 15%.  The federal and state governments that share the water are now urgently seeking conservation to save the river. Their negotiations could produce either a new system of sharing the pain of cutbacks or an impasse that ends in lawsuits as states and water users try to hang onto water promised them in a different time…

Interstate negotiations have proceeded haltingly this year in an emergency effort to conserve billions of gallons needed to keep America’s biggest dammed reservoirs — lakes Mead and Powell — from emptying. The U.S. Interior Department has also begun a process for determining how to operate the dams and preserve the river beginning in four years, when current rules expire…

The devastating combination of a warming climate and sustained overuse has long bent the Colorado River, but now stands ready to break it. If neither the demand nor the weather relents, it’s possible the river could finally stop flowing past Hoover Dam by the end of President Joe Biden’s term. Farms with senior water rights on paper would not be able to claim their due from a dry riverbed. Phoenix, while backstopped with other in-state sources such as the Salt River, would have to stop pouring Colorado River water into its aquifer for future demands, and start pumping what is already there. Small ranch towns like Pinedale and even major farm service centers like Yuma would lose jobs and population as they are forced to reduce production…

Having never used all the water that they were promised in the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin states now find there’s no more to go around. The only way Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico could grow into their full allocation in the current climate would be to force Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico to give back more of the water they’re already using.  Bruce Babbitt is among those who expect the U.S. will have to change the rules if drought continues to suppress river flows and reservoir levels over the next couple of years. The former Arizona governor and U.S. Interior secretary said the river will soon decline to the point where it’s impossible for the Upper Basin to meets its fixed yearly commitments to the Lower Basin without “progressively shutting down current Upper Basin uses. That is an ethical and political impossibility. 

Updated Colorado River 4-Panel plot thru Water Year 2022 showing reservoirs, flows, temperatures and precipitation. All trends are in the wrong direction. Since original 2017 plot, conditions have deteriorated significantly. Brad Udall via Twitter:

Election Denial Is the New #Climate Denial — and Still a Threat: The midterms may have avoided a red wave, but there’s still blood (and some anti-science conspiracy theorists) in the water — The Revelator #ActOnClimate

Click the link to read the article on The Revelator website (John R. Platt):

Let’s start with the good news. Several prominent proponents of former President Trump’s Big Lie of election fraud failed in their bids for elected office in the recent midterms, allowing Democrats to keep control of the Senate and flip several key statehouse roles. We won’t need to worry about the likes of Kari Lake, Tudor Dixon, Doug Mastriano or Mark Finchem anytime soon.

But here’s the bad news: We will still need to worry about them — and many others like them — in the long term.

Lake and her ilk may have failed at the ballot box, but zealots like her and Mastriano are unlikely to disappear for long. Fueled by conspiracy theories, right-wing misinformation and propaganda, Christian nationalism, and antigovernment extremism, they have too much invested in their aggressive identities to give up and go home.

And they still have plenty of support.

One of the most disturbing results of the midterm is the sheer number of election deniers who did get elected. By last count, at least 220 people won federal races this year after directly supporting Trump’s Big Lie of election fraud or otherwise expressing skepticism about the proven validity of elections. The candidates who will soon take office included at least eight governors and 10 senators, according to The New York Times and CNN. Hundreds more appear to have taken or kept office in local elections around the country. An additional crop of QAnon believers and other extremists lost their elections by painfully narrow margins, meaning they (and their voters) still have a lot of power in the broader political spectrum.

This is an environmental issue.

Election deniers also embrace a wide range of antidemocratic, anti-science beliefs and conspiracy theories — including casting doubt on the very existence of climate change and its threats, as shown in dozens of public statements compiled by Emily Atkin at Heated. All too often they use their comments to not only spread misinformation about climate change but to attack government institutions, left-leaning politicians, renewable energy, progressive causes, or the media.

Perhaps that’s one reason election-denying candidates received millions of dollars from energy and transportation companies leading up to the midterms, according to analysis by ProPublica and The Hill. It’s corporate support that gives these people a big chunk of their power. Now that the midterms are over and Republicans have taken control of the House, we can expect these newly elected representatives to pay back their corporate benefactors and support pro-business, pro-pollution, anti-voting policies, regulations and legislation.

Speaking of which, election deniers also overwhelmingly support restrictive new voting legislation that would disenfranchise young and poor voters, as well as voters of color — the same groups most likely to be put at risk from climate change and pollution. This threat will continue on both federal and state levels, most notably from four incoming secretaries of state who will now have power over elections in Alabama, Indiana, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Let’s not forget about the people who voted for them, either. The MAGA wing remains strong throughout the country and far too many folks still carry the Trump flag and bemoan the results of the 2020 election while finding new ways to threaten election officials, volunteers and voters — or government institutions in general.

And then, of course, there’s Trump himself, who just threw his red MAGA cap back into the ring and declared his intent to run for president again in 2024. The Insurrectionist in Chief continues to spread election lies and misinformation about both the 2020 and 2022 elections, and we’re still recovering from his four years of antienvironmental policies. If he ever ascends to office again, it will be more of the same and likely worse, fueled by delusion and his scorched-earth modus operandi.

Heck, we don’t even need to wait for 2024 to see what will happen. Even with their twice-impeached leader out of office, his acolytes have continued their assaults against the EPA, reproductive rights, voting rights, energy policy and other safeguards and freedoms.

They’re just warming up.

A century ago in #ColoradoRiver Compact negotiations: #Arizona, #Mexico, and the afterthought of Tribal water rights — InkStain @jfleck @R_EricKuhn #COriver #CRWUA2022

The Colorado River Basin’s eyes were on Santa Fe: Fort Collins Express, Nov. 19, 1922

Click the link to read the article on the InkStain website (Eric Kuhn and John Fleck):

After a two-day break to allow the drafters to do their work, the Colorado River Compact negotiators came back together a century ago, on Nov. 19, 1922, to wrestle with three unresolved questions:

  • water for Arizona – specifically its use of tributaries within Arizona
  • water for Mexico
  • water for the basin’s Native American nations

When they returned for their Sunday morning meeting, it is apparent from the surviving Compact Commission minutes that on Saturday they either met in executive session or Hoover had met with the individual basin caucuses. Three days previously, the commissioners had agreed to 75 million acre-feet every ten years delivery at Lee’s Ferry, the provision that would make up the Compact’s Article III (d). The issue now facing the commission was how much consumptive use would be apportioned to each basin in this round and did these apportionments include uses on Arizona’s tributaries.


Hoover began by reading the then-current draft version of Article III (a)

Hoover added that Arizona legal advisor Richard Sloan wanted additional language providing in the event the states could not agree on a new apportionment of the surplus waters, either basin could go to court to seek a judicial equitable apportionment.

Hoover then turned to Arizona’s Winfield Norviel and asked, “What do you think?”

Norviel responded, “Well, the thing don’t mean much to me. I don’t understand it at all.”

Norviel wanted more details on the 7,500,000 acre-feet and in particular “if this 7,500,000 acre-feet is to include the streams below Lee’s Ferry and things of that kind. Yesterday, we arrived at the point of excluding these. Mr. Carpenter made that statement that they were ours utterly to use as we saw fit.”

Carpenter interrupted: “No I didn’t, not for a minute.” New Mexico’s Steven Davis stepped in to support Carpenter, noting that even if Carpenter had agreed, “the Northern Sates had not.”

After restoring order, Hoover walked Norviel through his understanding of what they had agreed to, explaining that the proposed definition of the Colorado River System includes the “whole drainage basin of the Colorado River in the United States”, so yes Hoover emphasized, “the Gila and all other lower rivers are included” in the 7,500,000 acre-feet.

Norviel’ s basic problem was that he did not believe the deal on the table gave the Lower Basin enough water.  Arthur Powell Davis’s estimate for the Lower Basin was 7.45 million acre-feet – 5.1 million for the mainstem and 2.35 million for the tributaries. That left only 50,000 acre-feet for a cushion – what if Davis was wrong, what about reservoir evaporation, and what about the Lower Basin’s obligation to Mexico?

It’s easy to see why Norviel might have been confused. The Upper Basin’s offer to guarantee 65 million acre-feet every ten years at Lee Ferry did assume that the Lower Basin would have full use of its tributaries, as did Hoover’s suggestion of 82 million. What Norviel failed to recognize was that those offers were made when the commission was trying to divide the entire river two ways. Under the three-way split – Upper Basin water, Lower Basin water, and a surplus to be dealt with later – the key was limiting each Basin to a specific level of appropriations (7.5 million acre-feet of consumptive use). If Davis was wrong, then a new commission would deal with it in the future from the surplus “unapportioned” pool.

It’s also easy to see why Norviel was nervous. He now worked for a lame duck governor, Thomas Campbell. His successor, George W. P. Hunt had defeated Campbell by running against Arizona’s approval of a compact. Norviel knew that if Arizona was ever going to ratify a compact, he had to negotiate a compact with iron-clad protections for existing uses on the Gila River.

After a bit of further discussion, the Commission decided that they were at an impasse with Norviel on Article III (a) so, they decided to move onto other matters.  They spent much of the rest of the morning discussing the dispute resolution provision, now Article VI. At the end of the morning meeting, they begin to address one of their most delicate issues, water for Mexico.


Hoover opened the 20th meeting at 3:45 PM that Sunday. They began where they left off before lunch, discussing how to address water to Mexico under a future treaty. There had always been the framework of a consensus on how to address Mexico. In his compact proposal, Carpenter had suggested that each basin equally share a future Mexican burden.  Now that they had tentatively decided to set aside a surplus pool, the Commission agreed that any water for Mexico should first come from that pool but in the event the surplus was insufficient then each basin would equally share the deficiency. There was confusion among some of the Upper Basin commissioners over whether the Upper Basin’s 75 million acre-feet every ten years included water for Mexico.  With Carpenter’s help, Hoover cleared that up emphasizing that the Upper Basin’s 50% share of any deficiency would be additive to the 75 million acre-feet.

What Hoover wanted the Commission to avoid was putting something in writing in the compact that would give Mexico a future negotiating advantage when the two countries sat down to negotiate a treaty. He even suggested deleting any mention of their discussion of Mexico from the minutes – which did not happen.

After addressing Mexico, the commissioners turned their attention to addressing the priority of different uses.  Again, there was general agreement on how to proceed. Irrigation and domestic uses would be superior to power generation, and all would be superior to navigation, but getting the language right was not easy. Further, Hoover’s legal advisor Ottomar Hamele expressed concerns that Congress would not agree with them on navigation. They would come back to that issue (and Hamele was right).


Late in the 20th meeting Hoover raised the question the Colorado River Basin is struggling to come to grips with even today – the rights of the basin’s Native American communities. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled 14 years earlier, in the case of Winters V. United States, that Tribes were legally entitled to significant amounts of water. And there were a significant number of Tribal communities in the Colorado Basin. But Hoover’s approach to the issue demonstrates the gap between the legal intentions of Winters and the political and cultural reality of the treatment of tribes.

In offering a proposed compact provision, Hoover referred to it as the “wild Indian Article”, demeaning language echoing a tone of superiority that was prevalent a century ago and would continue to characterize how the European settler-based water management community would address the water needs of the basin’s tribes for much of the century that followed. His language was simple: “Nothing in this compact shall be construed as effecting the rights of Indian Tribes.”  James Scrugham immediately asked. “Why include any provision in the compact?” Hoover responded “to protect the U.S. who have treaties with the Indians” adding “these treaty rights would probably exceed these rights anyway. We don’t want the question raised.” The vote on Hoover’s proposed Article failed when Wyoming’s Emerson says he wanted “to withhold his decision.”

The Commission then adjourned until 10 AM the next morning.  They had accomplished much during the two Sunday sessions, but the commissioners were not happy. They needed to find a way to address Norviel’s concerns with the apportionment Article, the primary purpose of the compact.

From the 2018 Tribal Water Study, this graphic shows the location of the 29 federally-recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin. Map credit: USBR