Colorado River states, minus California, propose water mitigation plan

by Jacob Fuller

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

Six states have reached a general agreement on how best to protect the Colorado River and its primary reservoirs from dropping below critical water levels. But, without California on board, the proposal has stalled.

Seven states — California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — all rely heavily on electricity drawn from plants that utilize the Colorado River’s flow to produce power.

However, thanks to elongated drought seasons, both the river and its two primary reservoirs — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — are in danger of dropping so low that power would cease to be produced.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation had set a Tuesday deadline for the impacted states to offer recommendations on how to proceed, with the goal of all states and the federal government reaching an agreement that day.

No such agreement has been reached as of this writing.

As reported by the Washington Post, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming have suggested that the states which draw the most power should face severely reduced access to the power source.

This would mean California, Arizona, and the nation of Mexico would face the most drastic reductions. But, all three entities have, by virtue of treaties, some amount of access to the Colorado River’s waters.

“We recognize that over the past twenty-plus years there is simply far less water flowing into the Colorado River system than the amount that leaves it, and that we have effectively run out of storage to deplete,” a letter from the six states reads.

But, California, by a substantial margin the largest consumer among the states, has balked at losing too much water access.

As such, the state has made a counteroffer to adhere to the general concept of the six states’ proposal, but reduce the hit to California consumers. This recommendation, though, would result in the states failing to meet the minimal power reduction total established by the federal government.

Representatives of all the involved parties have stated a desire to work together on the process.

“All of us in the Colorado River Basin are experiencing long-term drought and aridification,” Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said in a statement. “The framework offered today by Colorado and five other states is a productive step forward. Ultimately, any solution needs to be collaborative and inclusive to cope with less water from the river we all rely on.”

For all the kind words and pledges of cooperation, it seems the seven states that comprise the basin have had immense trouble reaching a consensus.

Tuesday, it was revealed that California representatives had previously floated an idea that was particularly poorly received by the other entities who attended closed-door planning meetings.

This plan, which was reported on more exhaustively by CNN, would have reduced power consumption by removing all major cities from the grid, thereby freeing power for smaller cities and rural areas.

Such a plan would have caused a crisis for Las Vegas, which gets 90 percent of its power from the Colorado River, but also presented major issues for cities like Los Angeles (50 percent) and Phoenix (40 percent).

Since California has not signed out on to the compromise of the other six states, the federal government will likely now issue a mandated plan after reviewing all existing proposals and agreements.