Six Colorado River states have agreed to water cuts. California did not

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for that Second time In six months, dependent states Colorado River They appear to have failed to reach an agreement on limiting water use to sustain their farms and cities, setting up the possibility of the federal government making unilateral cuts later this year.

Six of the seven Colorado River basin states have drawn up a joint proposal on how they can meet the federal government’s demand for unprecedented cuts in water use. Two decades of drought It has pushed critical reservoirs to dangerously low levels in the West.

But California, the biggest water user, isn’t joining them — an impasse over how to protect the dwindling water supply that serves 40 million people is set to last in the coming months. The interior ministry asked states by Tuesday to submit plans on how to voluntarily reduce water use by 2 to 4 million acre-feet — or about a third of the river’s annual average flow.

“Obviously, it didn’t go swimmingly,” said Jeffrey Gidlinger, former general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a water provider that plays a key role in the talks. “It’s very difficult now.”

The proposal by six states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — seeks to protect key reservoirs in Lake Powell. Lake Mead When the dams are no longer able to generate electricity or are in “dead pool”, they effectively prevent water from flowing out of these lakes from falling below critical levels. The Bureau of Reclamation predicted that ahead of above-average snowfall in recent weeks Lake Powell Such limits may begin to be reached this summer.

Officials fear ‘total doomsday’ for drought-stricken Colorado River

During droughts of the last two decades, especially in recent years, the flow of the river has decreased, but the states continue to consume more than the river provides based on the structure established a century ago.

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The proposal provides new cuts to the southwestern states downstream from the main reservoirs of Arizona, Nevada and California, as well as to Mexico, which has treaty rights to a portion of the river’s water. The proposal would result in about 2 million acre-feet of cuts — the low end of what the federal government has asked for — and would be the biggest for the biggest water consumers: California and Arizona. The document recommends that California, which has rights to 4.4 million acre-feet of water, cut more than 1 million acre-feet as the reservoir shrinks.

California has so far Will be given A mere 400,000 acre-feet must be reduced. An acre-foot is enough to cover 326,000 gallons, or one acre, of water one foot deep. California’s Colorado River Board Chairman JP Hamby told The Associated Press in a statement that “the state is focused on practical solutions that can be implemented now to protect the amount of water in storage without conflict and litigation.” own project.

Six other states made their case in a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation on Monday.

“We recognize that over the past twenty-plus years, much less water has been flowing out of the Colorado River system than has been released, and we are effectively running out of storage,” the states wrote. “We will continue to work with the federal government and others to reach consensus on how best to share the burden of protecting a system from which we all benefit so much,” state representatives added.

“This modeling project is an important step forward Continued conversation Among the seven basin states as we continue to seek a collaborative solution to stabilize the Colorado River system,” Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Puschatzke said in a statement.

Recovery is a work in progress Environmental Studies How to Operate Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams in Low Water Conditions By summer, the process is expected to clarify the federal government’s legal authority to make unilateral cuts in states’ water allocations.

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One of the central tensions in these complex negotiations is how to balance cuts between agricultural areas versus those in cities, including major population centers. Agriculture uses 80 percent of the river’s water, and they have very senior rights, some dating back to the 19th century. The way this “priority system” works, Phoenix residents could lose water before vegetable growers in Yuma. Alfalfa growers in Southern California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys keep their water for people in parts of Los Angeles.

Arizona city cuts off neighborhood’s water supply amid drought

Kightlinger, along with many other water experts and officials, believe that cuts of this magnitude and severity should be distributed according to seniority.

“They cannot follow the priority system. That would be a disaster. And that: We’re going to base all the cuts on the core of the economy. It simply cannot be realistic,” he said.

But officials in these agricultural districts with long-standing water rights aren’t willing to give them up without a fight — or compensation that meets their needs.

Alex Cardenas, chairman of the board of directors of the Imperial Irrigation District, has been discussing water rights among farmers in his area of ​​California. border with Mexico Predates the creation of the Bureau of Reclamation to manage the river system. His water district uses about 2.6 million acre-feet of water a year to irrigate 400,000 acres of farmland for alfalfa, grasses and other crops.

“We stand behind the river’s priority system, and we understand that there are painful cuts that people will have to make. But we will not serve as an emergency reservoir for uncontrolled, unsustainable urban sprawl,” Cardenas said. can be cultivated.”

As negotiations have progressed in recent months, the Imperial Irrigation District has offered to reduce its use by 250,000 acre feet, or about 10 percent. The Biden administration helped pave the way for that offer pledge $250 million for environmental projects to address dust-ravaged shorelines around the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake

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Cardenas said the prospect of cutting 10 percent of the region’s $5 billion agricultural economy would mean severe economic pain for a community already suffering from high unemployment. But from the perspective of other states — even those cuts may not be enough.

Negotiators have had a helping hand from nature to start the year. The rain and snowstorms that hit California in January raised the state’s reservoir levels and blanketed the Sierra Nevada Mountains by 210 percent in snow.T than normal For this time of year. Snowfall in the Rocky Mountains is a major source of water that feeds the Colorado River system More than normal But not like California.

California’s snowfall with the help of atmospheric rivers can help with drought

But the abundant rainfall is also a double-edged sword, creating a political challenge for negotiators trying to agree on painful cuts, according to analysts following the talks.

“If severe, severe drought conditions continue, it will be easier for them to sell additional cuts,” said Michael J. Cohen said. “But there’s this public perception that there’s flooding, and when there’s been so much water from these recent storms, why should we take extra measures?”

While the past two years have seen healthy winter snow accumulation in the Rockies, runoff levels at Lake Powell have remained a fraction of normal as the warming climate dries up the landscape and absorbs more water before it reaches the reservoir. Lake Powell’s water level has dropped about a foot this year and currently stands at more than 33 feet, where the Glen Canyon Dam cannot generate electricity.

“There’s a problem with dryness. But more than that there’s a problem with the rules,” Cohen said. “The rules that govern the system are not static.”

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