Seven Colorado River states submit plan for sharing water in drought
LAS VEGAS (AP) ” Nevada and six other Colorado River states filed a plan with the Interior Department on Monday aimed at divvying up scarce water resources during drought.
Official said the long-debated pact represented the most comprehensive guidelines in the history of the river, and said it would protect 30 million people who depend on the river for drinking water.
“It provides us a greater level of certainty in very uncertain times,” Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Water Authority, said in a statement.
The plan was submitted to the Bureau of Reclamation at the close of a comment period on an environmental study of Colorado River operations. It is due for review by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.
Mulroy called the plan “critical” to southern Nevada, which is near its limit of drawing 300,000 acre feet of water per year from the Lake Mead reservoir formed by Hoover Dam.
Under existing rules commonly referred to as the “law of the river,” and dating to the 1920s, the four upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are obligated to let 8.23 million acre feet of water per year flow to three lower basin states ” Arizona, California and Nevada.
Under the proposed plan, the upper basin could release less water downstream if drought continues and less-than-average snowpack accumulates on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
The lower basin states would adjust by augmenting their supplies through what the plan calls “intentionally created surpluses.”
The proposal includes a water shortage agreement between Nevada and Arizona, and allows water for agriculture in Southern California to be “banked” in Lake Mead for future use if farm lands are allowed to go fallow.
It also would let the Southern Nevada Water Authority tap water holdings in the Coyote Spring area of Nevada and exercise its rights to draw water from the Virgin and Muddy rivers.
Combined, the three sources could mean an additional 45,000 acre feet of water for the Las Vegas area. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or about enough to supply two homes for one year, according to water authority estimates.
The proposal contains a promise from the authority to help finance construction of a reservoir in Southern California’s Imperial Valley, near the Mexico border. The reservoir would capture irrigation water that would otherwise flow past Southern California farms during rainy weather.
Kay Brothers, water authority deputy general manager, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Monday report that the plan calls for enough water to be released from Lake Powell, the reservoir behind the Glen Canyon Dam along the Arizona-Utah state line, to ensure Lake Mead doesn’t drop below 1,025 feet above sea level. The Lake Mead water level was about 1,121 feet above sea level Monday.
Nevada’s annual 300,000 acre-foot allocation could be reduced depending on drought, but would not total less than 280,000 acre-feet, Brothers said.
George Caan, executive director of Nevada’s Colorado River Commission, hailed the proposal as a model of cooperation.
“The adversity of drought has brought the states together and forced us to rethink how we manage this precious resource,” he said in statement.
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