US suggests options to cut use of water from Colorado River

  • The Colorado River is being threatened by drought conditions
  • The Biden administration offered two suggestions reduce water use
  •  One benefits California, while the other favors Nevada and Arizona

(NewsNation) — The Biden administration released a document Tuesday with a few options for ways Western states and tribes that rely on the Colorado River could cut their water use in light of severe drought conditions.

This drought, which has been going on for years because of rising demand, overuse and climate change, dramatically dried up reservoirs including Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam in Nevada, and Lake Powell, by Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam.

Models proposed by White House officials suggest operational changes to both of these dams. While one model would benefit California and tribes along the river by making reductions based on who has high-priority water rights, the second would favor Nevada and Arizona. That model would cut water on a proportional basis when water levels at reservoirs along the river go below a certain point.

Officials warned that a third option — doing nothing — would lead to water levels being too low for dams to function.

Suggestions were provided in a draft supplemental environmental impact statement put forth by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Administration officials included revisions to 2007 guidelines that provided operating criteria for lakes Powell and Mead.

Public comment for the draft document will be open for 45 calendar days, and a final decision is expected in the summer.

“The Colorado River Basin provides water for more than 40 million Americans. It fuels hydropower resources in eight states, supports agriculture and agricultural communities across the West, and is a crucial resource for 30 Tribal Nations. Failure is not an option,” Deputy Secretary for the Department of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau said in a statement. “Recognizing the severity of the worsening drought, the Biden-Harris administration is bringing every tool and every resource to bear through the President’s Investing in America agenda to protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River System now and into the future.”

Camille Calimlim Touton, the commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, said the released draft is the product of “ongoing engagement” with Colorado River Basin states and water commissioners, the 30 Basin Tribes, water managers and other stakeholders.

“We look forward to continued work with our partners in this critical moment,” she said.

Arizona’s lead negotiator in the Colorado River talks endorsed the idea of cutting each state’s share equally, according to The New York Times, as he said the state has wanted “an equitable outcome” for a long time now.

The lead negotiator for Nevada, The Times reported, said he’s still receiving the report, though he added his state is generally in favor of an equitable approach.

Meanwhile, California’s Colorado River Commissioner JB Hamby said the state remains committed to developing a seven-state consensus that will protect the system “for the duration of the current guidelines.”

“California looks forward to closely coordinating and collaborating with our partners in the other Basin States, Basin Tribes, and Reclamation to review the draft SEIS in full,” Hamby said.

California submitted a proposal of its own in January that built on “voluntary agreements” and “past collaborative efforts” to address declining reservoirs and achieve necessary water use, a news release noted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Science News

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