Feds announce new push to shore up shrinking Colorado River

As Colorado River reservoirs continue to recede, federal officials on Friday announced plans to revise their current congestion-handling rules and reach a new agreement to achieve greater reductions in water use across the Southwest.

The Biden administration’s announcement represents a renewed attempt to reduce water use along the river to better match demand with supply amid a 23-year mega-drought that is being exacerbated by global warming.

The Interior Department said that with the falling water levels at Lake Powell, operations at Glen Canyon Dam may need to be modified to release less water, affecting downstream rivers in the Grand Canyon and accelerating Lake Mead’s decline. The department said to protect public health and safety and the integrity of the system, releases from the Hoover Dam might also need to be reduced – which would reduce the amounts of water flowing into California, Arizona and Mexico.

Federal officials in June asked the seven states that depend on the Colorado River to come up with plans to drastically reduce annual water diversions by about 15% to 25% across the region. But negotiations between the states became tense and acrimonious, and no agreement was reached.

The Home Office has the power to step in and unilaterally impose major cuts. But federal officials appear to be trying to push for consensus on reducing water withdrawal from the river, rather than dictating cuts in a way that could further fuel tensions or lead to litigation.

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

Used by approximately 40 million people, water from the Colorado River flows into cities, farmlands and tribal nations from the Rocky Mountains to Southern California. The river has long been congested. 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 nearly three-quarters empty. Falling water levels are threatening the dams’ ability to generate hydroelectric power.

Without major cuts in water use, the latest projections show a growing risk that reservoirs will approach ‘dead end’ levels, where no water would flow downstream.

The current system for dealing with congestion was set out in operating regulations dating back to 2007, and a 2019 agreement laid down a number of additional cuts if Lake Mead’s water level drops.

The Federal Bureau of Reclamation said it would issue a notice to prepare a “supplemental environmental impact statement” that would include proposed alternatives to the 2007 revision of the rules. Those rules, known as interim guidelines, expire after 2026, and negotiations on the next round of deficiency-sharing rules have yet to begin.

The Home Office said officials would consider alternatives to revising the current rules to provide “additional alternatives and measures needed to address the likelihood of continued low-flow conditions”.

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2022-10-28/feds-announce-new-push-to-shore-up-shrinking-colorado-river Feds announce new push to shore up shrinking Colorado River

Alley Einstein

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