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

Click the link to read the article on the AZCentral.com 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: https://twitter.com/bradudall/status/1593316262041436160

Leave a Reply