Click the link to read the article on The Washington Post website (Joshua Partlow). Here’s an excerpt:
After nearly a year wrestling over the fate of their water supply, California, Arizona and Nevada — the three key states in the Colorado River’s current crisis — have coalesced around a plan to voluntarily conserve a major portion of their river water in exchange for more than $1 billion in federal funds, according to people familiar with the negotiations. The consensus emerging among these states and the Biden administration aims to conserveabout 13 percent of their allocation of river water over the next three years and protect the nation’s largest reservoirs…But thorny issues remain that could complicate a deal. The parties are trying to work through them before a key deadline at the end of the month, according to several current and former state and federal officials familiar with the situation…
State officials have suggested they could make a deal on their own and are resisting a May 30 deadline to comment on the alternatives the federal government has laid out in that process, according to people familiar with the talks. The review process is intended to define Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s authority to make emergency cuts in states’ water use, even if those cuts contradict existing water rights. These developments represent a new phase in the long-runningtalks about the future of the river. For much of the past year, negotiations have pitted California against Arizona, as they are the states that suck the most from Lake Mead and will have to bear the greatest burden of the historic cuts that the Biden administration has been calling for to protect the river. But these states now appear more united than ever and are closing their differences with the federal government, even as significant issues remain unresolved…
Some water authorities in the West want to ensure that any deal that emerges would entail binding commitments among the Lower Basin states, which draw from Lake Mead and consume more of the river each year than the states of the Upper Basin: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
“We want to support the Lower Basin if they have significant additional reductions, verifiable, binding and enforceable,” said Becky Mitchell, Colorado’s commissioner for the negotiations. “Are we going to make a choice to do better? If we don’t want the secretary to manage us, can we show we can manage ourselves?”
But the bleak reservoir levels outlined in that review date back to September and the weather has improved markedly since then. Abundant snow cloaked the Rocky Mountains over the winter and atmospheric rivers doused California’s drought. Water levels in the big reservoirs have started to rise. Colorado River experts have grown increasingly confident that the most draconian cuts in fact wouldn’t be needed, at least this year. And the $4 billion in federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act pledged to this problem meant that those that voluntarily gave up their rights to water would be well-compensated for it. Those conditions helped the Lower Basin negotiators come up with a plan to volunteer about 3 million acre-feet of cuts total until 2026, when a major renegotiation of the rules of the river is scheduled to begin. This scale of cuts is smaller than some of the most dire scenarios outlined in the environmental review if reservoirs had continued to plummet.
Click the link to read “Western states and feds are closing in on a landmark deal to prevent Lake Mead from plummeting further” on the CNN webslite (Ella Nilsen). Here’s an excerpt:
Top water negotiators from California, Arizona and Nevada have discussed leaving 3 million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead over the next four years, the sources said – while cautioning negotiations with the US Interior Department were fluid and could change. The tentative amount would be around 10% of the states’ normal water allocation and would be in addition to previously agreed-to cuts that were negotiated in 2019 and 2007. The federal funding being offered for water cuts was part of $4 billion in drought relief funding passed in the Inflation Reduction Act. States and the US government are trying to clinch a framework agreement ahead of May 30, the end of the comment period for a dramatic environmental analysis released by federal officials last month. That analysis could force the three states to cut nearly 2.1 million additional acre-feet of their Colorado River usage in 2024 alone. At the time, top federal officials said publicly they hoped their proposal would spur discussion among states who have spent the past year sparring over cuts. Even though the states have struck an agreement among themselves, finalizing the details with the federal government could prove tricky. Outstanding issues include a proposal that some of the water cuts go uncompensated by the feds, and whether the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming will go along with the agreement…
Western water officials say a key goal this year is to build water elevation at Lake Mead. Some of that will be refilled naturally from the good winter runoff, but state officials said more should come from farmers, cities and tribes reducing their water use in exchange for federal dollars.
“What I’m hoping happens is people who were considering putting their water into the (federal water cut) program still do,” Arizona’s top water official Tom Buschatzke told CNN in April. “It’s a bit easier to do the conservation when you can be compensated and when it’s really wet, versus when it’s really dry and you’re looking at forced cuts – a lot more uncertainty about how far down Lake Mead could go and how big those cuts might get.”
Before this month’s breakthrough, California, Arizona and Nevada struck an agreement among themselves, which was unveiled to Deputy Interior Sec. Tommy Beaudreau and Touton at an April 21 meeting in Nevada, one source told CNN. But some new tensions between the states and feds have cropped up over the analysis produced by the Interior Department last month. States were hoping their plan for voluntary, compensated cuts could essentially happen in the place of federal action on the river, an idea federal officials pushed back on, according to one source familiar with the meeting. And there has also been haggling over what level Lake Mead would have to drop to in order for the federal government to be able to step in and make additional unilateral cuts.