Feds announce new push to shore up narrowing Colorado River

As Colorado River reservoirs continue to decline, federal officials on Friday announced plans to revise their current rules to address shortages and will pursue a new agreement to achieve deeper reductions in water use across the country. South West.

The Biden administration’s announcement represents new momentum in an attempt to reduce water use along the river to better align demand with supply in the face of a 23-year-old mega-drought made worse by global warming climatic.

The Department of the Interior said that with lower water levels at Lake Powell, operations may need to change at Glen Canyon Dam to release less water, affecting downstream flows in the Grand Canyon and speeding up the decline of Lake Mead. The department said that to protect public health and safety and the integrity of the system, discharges from the Hoover Dam may also need to be reduced, which would reduce the amounts of water flowing to California, Arizona and Mexico. .

In June, federal officials called on the seven states that rely on the Colorado River to come up with plans to dramatically reduce annual water diversions by about 15% to 25% across the region. But negotiations between the states became tense and acrimonious and did not result in an agreement.

The Home Office has the power to step in and unilaterally impose deeper cuts. But federal officials appear to be trying to push for consensus on reducing water use from the river rather than imposing reductions in a way that could further inflame tensions or lead to legal battles.

“The Home Office continues to pursue a collaborative and consensus-based approach to addressing the drought crisis plaguing the West,” Home Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “At the same time, we are committed to taking the swift and decisive action necessary to protect the Colorado River system and all who depend on it.”

Water from the Colorado River is used by approximately 40 million people and flows to cities, farmlands and tribal nations from the Rocky Mountains to Southern California. The river has long been overused. So much water is diverted that the river delta in Mexico largely dried up decades ago.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the river’s two largest reservoirs, are now three-quarters empty. Falling water levels jeopardize the ability of dams to generate hydroelectricity.

Without major reductions in water use, the latest projections show growing risks of reservoirs approaching “dead pool” levels, where water would no longer pass downstream.

The current shortage management system was established in operating rules dating back to 2007, and a 2019 agreement provided for a series of further reductions as Lake Mead levels fall.

The Federal Office of Reclamation said it will issue a notice to prepare a “supplemental environmental impact statement,” which will include proposed alternatives for the revision of the 2007 rules. Those rules, called interim guidelines, are due to expire. after 2026, and negotiations on the next round of shortage sharing rules have yet to begin.

The Home Office said officials would consider alternatives to revise the current rules to “provide alternatives and additional measures necessary to address the likelihood of continued low runoff conditions”.

Los Angeles Times

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