A major deadline just passed without unanimous agreement among
Western states over the future of the Colorado River, so the
federal government is one step closer to stepping in on the
dwindling river that provides water for 1-in-8 Americans.
The path forward has become murkier for the drought-stricken
region now in its 19th year of low water levels after a January 31
deadline failed to garner signed agreements from Arizona and
The fate of 40 million Americans’ water access could fall to
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. She’s been
a firm pro-science voice in the growing Western water scuffle,
which has been marred by decades of delay on tackling a looming
problem. A last-chance deadline for states is
now in effect for March 4, after which Burman will open public
comments and attempt to craft her own plan to divvy up water across
the massive region — a big departure from the consensus-finding
efforts so far. Should states agree in time, Burman has pledged to
rescind her authority to overrule them.
Arizona’s perspective, which stands to take the biggest
immediate cuts once a
now-inevitable river shortage is declared, other states should
help share the burden of low-flow on the river. Nevada
doesn’t use its full allotment and has agreed to give up some
of its share, but not enough to avoid
profound implications for water-intensive Arizona farmers. In
legislation passed just hours before the January 31 deadline,
Arizona loosened its strict groundwater laws to
permit and fund the drilling of new wells for its farmers that
stand to lose the most water once Colorado River cuts finally go
into effect — a
controversial step that could deplete local sources.
California, which holds the biggest share of Colorado River
water rights of any state, is requesting $200 million to
protect the dwindling Salton Sea, a sensitive wildlife area
that is fed by water from the Colorado. The Imperial Irrigation
District, the river’s largest single water user, has refused to
sign the plan without federal support. “We’re partners [with
California] and we’re trying to help, but people need to see how
important the Salton Sea is,” a
Imperial Irrigation District representative told the Arizona Daily
Independent. Neighboring communities are concerned that
increased dust in the region
could worsen public health.
Arguing over water in the desert isn’t new, but climate
change is bringing the long simmering battle over the Colorado into
the forefront after
last winter’s catastrophically low snowpack put an
exclamation point on a worsening situation.
As temperatures rise in the Rocky Mountains, the headwaters of
the Colorado, there’s less water to go around for the rising
population in the region. About 20
percent of snowpack across the West has vanished over the past
30 years due to rising temperatures, with more than 90
percent of snow-monitoring sites showing losses. Using a
scientists recently found that the ongoing dry weather and
warming temperatures have prompted the return of a
“megadrought” — one of the worst in at least the past 1,200
years, and which is only expected to grow in severity.
And, of course, this isn’t isolated just to the Colorado. Snow
and ice-fed rivers are under threat around the world as
temperatures warm, with
billions of people dependent on water flowing downhill from
mountain regions. Nearly all mountain glaciers worldwide are
melting, and more than half have recently reached a point of no
return where the
water they produce will decline going forward.
One thing is clear for people living in the Colorado River basin
— the future means less water, and further cuts will be mostly
borne by agriculture, which currently uses about
80 percent. But exactly how the region comes to long-term
agreement is still anyone’s guess.
This story was originally published by Grist with the headline
What’s next for the parched Colorado? The latest on the West’s
drought drama. on Feb 4, 2019.
Source: FS – All – Science – News
What’s next for the parched Colorado? The latest on the West’s drought drama.