California has submitted its counterproposal to the federal government to share Colorado River water cuts, alleging that the plan offered by six other states would impose a disproportionate burden on Southern California farms and cities.
Water agencies dependent on the river presented their proposal to the Biden administration on Tuesday, the same day federal officials set a deadline for Colorado River basin states on how to prevent reservoirs from falling to dangerously low levels.
The state submitted its proposal a day after Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming released theirs. A large portion of the reductions he proposed would make up for evaporation and other downstream river water losses, a move that would result in particularly large reductions for California, which draws more Colorado River water than any other state. uses it.
“The six-state proposal directly and disproportionately affects California,” said Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of State for Natural Resources. “It doesn’t sound like a constructive approach for some state to make a proposal that only affects existing water security and another state’s water rights that is not part of that proposal.”
Crowfoot said other states have developed an approach that would go beyond what is established in agreements and laws governing the management and use of the Colorado River. Instead, the California Water Agency’s proposal outlines practical and feasible changes that could be implemented starting this year to stabilize reservoir levels.
The state’s proposal builds on a previous commitment by the four Southern California water agencies to reduce water use by 400,000 acre-feet per year, a reduction of about 9% by 2026. The federal government has asked states to reduce their overall consumption by between 2. and 4 million acre-ft.
In addition to planned reductions in California and other states, the proposal calls for action to keep reservoirs above certain levels, including additional reductions in case the level of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, falls critically low. Level.
In the proposal paper, JB Hamby, president of the California Colorado River Board, said the state’s option “provides a realistic and enforceable framework to address flow reductions and reservoir depletion.” Risk of legal challenge or delay in application.
Some California agencies, such as the Imperial Irrigation District and the Palo Verde Irrigation District, which supply water to extensive agricultural lands, have priority water rights that date back more than a century. California officials have insisted that these water rights and current law on the river must be maintained in any plan to reduce water use.
Hamby declared, “California does not waver in its legal position.” “We are still waiting to develop a seven-state consensus, if that is possible.”
If legal disputes arise, efforts to find a solution can be complicated. States are submitting their alternate proposals as the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation have begun the process of revising existing rules to address the shortfall.
Hamby said California is focused on “practical solutions that can be implemented now to save the amount of water stored without provoking conflict and litigation.”
“Up to this point, we have not reached that consensus, but we hope to do so in the future,” Hamby said. “We need to be able to reach a consensus among the seven states of the basin to reach voluntary agreements in which each state feels comfortable.”
Even after the deadline set by the federal government, the heads of water agencies have more talks set to continue.
Supplying cities, farmland and tribal nations from the Rocky Mountains to the US-Mexico border, the Colorado River has been pushed to breaking point by chronic overdrafting, drought and the effects of global warming.
Over the past 23 years, the basin has dried out from the worst drought in centuries, exacerbated by rising temperatures.
Lake Mead and Lake Powell are three-quarters empty. And while the Rocky Mountains have received an above average amount of snow so far this winter, it hasn’t been enough to lift reservoirs out of their severe water deficit.
In June, federal authorities asked seven states to come up with plans to reduce water diversions by 15–30%. But negotiations between the states became tense and acrimonious and failed to reach an agreement.
In October, the Biden administration announced plans to review existing regulations to address water scarcity and a new agreement to significantly reduce water use.
Six states made their proposals public after the previous round of talks reached a deadlock. This is an “alternative framework” for the Bureau of Reclamation to consider when preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement.
Six states urged federal officials to begin accounting for more than 1.5 million acre-feet of water lost, mostly due to evaporation, which would mean significant reductions for Southern California.
“I don’t think there is disagreement about the amount of the cuts,” said John Entsminger, CEO of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “We need this magnitude of reduction to stabilize the system.”
The question is how those cuts will be divided, he said, and negotiations will continue among states.
“I think there remains a strong commitment from all seven states to continue working in good faith toward a solution,” Entsminger said.
Federal officials aim to publish a draft review of options by the end of March, after which a decision will be made in the summer.
Entsminger said that while the states have yet to reach a consensus, he hopes “we can come up with something everyone can live with.”
Crowfoot said California’s proposal, while specifying the cuts, also focuses on protecting “the basic water needs of communities across the West by prioritizing water supplies over human health and safety.”
While negotiating immediate plans, the seven states should also soon begin negotiating new rules to manage the shortfall after 2026.
Crowfoot said these talks would be better placed to discuss any changes to the established allocation system, such as the six-state proposal to focus on evaporative water losses.
“We think doing this in a matter of months in a system that has been in place for over a century is not the way to reach consensus,” Crowfoot said. “Let’s focus on the work at hand to make a difference in water conservation here in the coming months.”
California Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein supported the state’s proposal, saying that reducing river flows due to drought and climate change would leave no state short of water.
The two Democratic senators said in a joint statement that “Having the six other western states decide how much water California should give simply isn’t a real consensus solution, especially coming from states that have no New cuts have not been offered.” water. He said the six states’ proposal “does not recognize California’s primary legal rights to water.”
A California tribal leader joined water managers in support of the state’s proposal. Jordan Joaquin, president of the Quechan Tribal Council, said the proposal “represents a significant effort to address the hydrological challenges facing the watershed. [del río Colorado]Respecting the priority water rights of tribes and others and ensuring that the Colorado can continue to exist as a living river.
Managers at the Southern California Metropolitan Water District said they plan to take additional steps this year to reduce their use of Colorado River water.
“But we must do it in a way that doesn’t harm half the people who depend on the river – 19 million people in Southern California,” said MWD CEO Adel Hegekhalil. “We must do it in a way that doesn’t devastate our $1.6 trillion economy, an economic engine for the entire United States. We must do it in a way that can be implemented quickly, without engaging in protracted legal battles.” Water can be poured into Mead and Powell.”
In December, leaders of water wholesalers declared a regional drought emergency and asked local suppliers to reduce water consumption. MWD officials are discussing plans to allocate supplies for the district’s 26 member agencies to move toward region-wide mandatory conservation measures.
MWD Board President Adan Ortega said the district is preparing to take these steps to “do our part in saving the Colorado River.”
“In fact, we’ve started to prepare our agencies and the public for this possibility, so it’s a good faith move that we hope other states will take seriously,” Ortega said.
Ortega said the six states’ proposal would lead to disputes over the calculation of evaporation losses, “not to mention disputes that would be lodged over the river’s parameter changes.”
He said this would be a “very ill-advised course of action”.
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