America Saves Western States From Colorado River Water Cuts — For Now

Aug 16 (Reuters) – The U.S. government has exempted seven western states from mandatory Colorado River water cuts for now, but warned on Tuesday that tougher protections are needed to protect dwindling reservoirs from growing excesses and severe droughts fueled by climate change.

The U.S. Bureau of Reconstruction in June gave states 60 days until mid-August to negotiate their own cuts or face mandatory cuts imposed by the federal government. Federal officials were asked to cut water use by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet a year, an unprecedented 15% to 30% reduction in the coming year.

But bureau and Interior officials said at a news conference they were giving states more time to reach an agreement that would affect water supplies for 40 million people.

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Instead they backed off on previously negotiated cuts, imposing cuts for the second year in a row on Nevada, Arizona and Colorado River quota recipients Mexico.

Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said federal officials will continue to work with the seven Colorado River states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

“We stand firm on the need to protect that system,” said Beaudreau, who is encouraged by the negotiations so far and the new federal money for water management.

Even so, federal officials said the 100-year-old Colorado River Compact and the 21st-century reality of human-induced climate change, resulting in warmer temperatures and drier soils, require additional cuts under the terms already negotiated.

A 24-month forecast released Tuesday showed fall levels in the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, would trigger previously negotiated cuts.

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An aerial view of Lake Powell is seen as water levels have dropped dramatically since filling in the 1960s and as climate change shrinks the Colorado River on the Arizona side, creating challenges for business owners and recreationists. , US, April 20, 2022. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs/Files

Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will all see cuts for the second year in a row: 21% for Arizona, 8% for Nevada and 7% for Mexico.

They are the first to be subject to cuts under the Colorado River Compact. Last year, they received reductions of 18%, 7% and 5% respectively for the first time.

Negotiations on further reductions are creating tension among states, especially California, the biggest user, which has so far avoided cuts triggered by low reservoir levels.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell are no more than a quarter of their capacity. If they fall too far, the West will not be able to generate hydropower for millions of people.

“It is unacceptable that Arizona continues to bear the disproportionate burden of cuts for the benefit of others who do not contribute,” Ted Cook, general manager of the Central Arizona Program, said in a statement.

John Entzminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said Tuesday he hopes to get more urgency from the bureau.

“It’s possible for us to make the big cuts that are needed, but I think we’re going to get everybody to the table, realizing that everybody’s going to have to go through enough pain to get there,” Entzminger said.

The 23-year flood, the worst on record in at least 1,200 years, is testing the compact strength of the river, which a century ago assumed could deliver 20 million acre-feet of water each year. The river’s actual flow has averaged 12.5 million acre-feet over the past two decades, with state water managers having more rights on paper than the water in the river.

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“As we’ve emphasized since we took office, the situations we face require swift action and increased water protection in every state and from every department,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior.

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Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Caitlin Oakes; Editing by Donna Bryson and Josie Cao

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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