US spares western states from Colorado River water cuts – for now

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An aerial view of Lake Powell is seen, where water levels have dropped dramatically to levels not seen since it was filled in the 1960s, as rising water demand and climate change shrink the Colorado River and create challenges for business owners and recreation in Page, Arizona, U.S., April 20, 2022. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs/Files

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Aug 16 (Reuters) – The U.S. government has spared seven western states from mandatory Colorado River water cuts for now, but warned on Tuesday that drastic conservation was needed to protect declining reservoirs from overuse and severe drought exacerbated by climate change.

In June, the US Bureau of Reclamation had given states 60 days, until mid-August, to negotiate their own reductions or possibly face mandatory reductions imposed by the federal government. Federal officials have called for a reduction in use of 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water per year, an unprecedented reduction of 15 to 30 percent over the coming year.

But officials from the office and the Home Office told a news conference they would give states more time to reach an agreement affecting water supplies for 40 million people.

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Instead, they fell back on previously negotiated cuts that, for the second year in a row, will force reductions in Nevada, Arizona and the country of Mexico, which also receives an allocation from the Colorado River.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau said federal officials would continue to work with the seven Colorado River states to reach an agreement: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

“That said, we remain firm in the need to protect the system,” Beaudreau said, adding that he was encouraged by the talks so far and by new federal funds for water management.

Even so, federal officials have said more cuts are needed, both based on terms already negotiated in the 100-year-old Colorado River Pact and the 21st century reality of human-influenced climate change driving higher temperatures. warmer and drier soils.

A 24-month forecast released on Tuesday showed falling levels at the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, would trigger previously negotiated reductions.

Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will see their supplies reduced for a second consecutive year: 21% for Arizona, 8% for Nevada and 7% for Mexico.

They are the first to be reduced under the Colorado River Pact. Last year, they were hit with reductions of 18%, 7% and 5%, respectively, for the first time ever.

Negotiations over further cuts are creating tension between states, especially as California, the largest user, has so far avoided cuts triggered by low reservoir levels.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell are barely over a quarter of their capacity. If they fall much lower, they will be unable to generate hydroelectric power for millions of people in the West.

“It is unacceptable that Arizona continues to bear a disproportionate burden of cuts to benefit others who have not contributed,” Ted Cooke, executive director of the Central Arizona Project, said in a statement.

John Entsminger, chief executive of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said he had hoped for more urgency from the office on Tuesday.

“It is possible for us to make the larger cuts needed, but I think everyone around the table will have to realize that everyone has to suffer a commensurate level of pain to make that happen,” Entsminger said. .

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

“As we have emphasized since taking office, the circumstances we face will require swift action and increased water conservation in every state, in every sector,” said Tanya Trujillo, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior for water and science.

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Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Caitlin Ochs; Editing by Donna Bryson and Josie Kao

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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