U.S. demands more water cuts as Colorado River hits dire lows

cigaretteman

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May 29, 2001
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As the historic drought in the U.S. Southwest pushes the nation’s largest reservoirs to record lows, the Biden administration Tuesday announced that water shortages along the Colorado River had passed a threshold for the first time that will require unprecedented cuts for states including Arizona and Nevada.
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The Colorado River’s decline has drained three-quarters of the water from the nation’s largest reservoirs, and falling closer than ever to levels where hydroelectric dams can’t generate power and millions of people lose access to drinking water and irrigation supplies across seven states.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation declared that the Lower Colorado River Basin has reached what’s called a “Tier 2” shortage, requiring cuts in water use that will diminish what Arizona gets by 21 percent, Nevada by 8 percent and the country of Mexico by 7 percent.
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“The system is approaching a tipping point, and without action we cannot protect the system,” M. Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, said during a news conference Tuesday. “Protecting the system means protecting the people of the American West.”
The urgency of this moment comes as little surprise for Western water managers who divvy up the river’s dwindling supplies, but policymakers in the region remain torn on what to do. The Biden administration told these states in June that they need to find a way to reduce water use by 2 to 4 million acre-feet — up to a third of the river’s annual average flow — or the federal government will make cuts for them. The deadline for that deal passed Monday, as negotiators continue to scramble to reach a voluntary agreement.
The root of the problem is an ongoing, 23-year drought, the worst stretch for the region in more than a millennium. Snowpack in the mountains that feed the 1,450-mile river have been steadily diminishing as the climate warms. Ever-drier soils absorb runoff before it can reach reservoirs, and more frequent extreme heat hastens evaporation.
In searching for a solution, state officials say they are seeking to balance both short-term needs to save Lakes Mead and Powell from dropping to levels where water can no longer generate power or flow through its dams, and also set themselves up for a longer-term agreement where everyone will have to find ways to use less water because climate change has made the West hotter and drier.
“What we’re facing here is that continued drawdown at Powell and Mead starts to affect people’s physical ability to get water,” said Deven Upadhyay, assistant general manager and chief operating officer of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a major urban water provider that gets a quarter of its supply from the Colorado River.
“It’s not like we can argue over this forever, and then the reservoir goes dry and you don’t have access to water, and at that point you’re not negotiating anything,” he said. “That is a powerful driver that is very different about these discussions now.”


But balancing the demands of so many states, cities, tribes and farmers is no easy task. The Colorado River was divided up among seven states a century ago. There are designated supplies for Upper Basin states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico) and Lower Basin states (California, Nevada and Arizona) as well as Mexico, where the river ends in the Sea of Cortez. Within those broad outlines there is a tangled web of junior and senior water rights, outdated allocations and inequities that originally left Native Americans out of the equation.
In the West's fastest growing metro area, a rising fear the water may run out
River experts say the current ultimatum from the federal government, issued in June to cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet, is the start of what will be a period of unprecedented drama along the river.

 

mthawkeyes

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Mar 22, 2007
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It seems obvious to me that growing lush green lawns and golf courses in the desert is wasteful. But most of the water goes to agriculture. Growing food for humans, especially fruits and winter vegetables makes sense. Growing alfalfa to feed horses and livestock in a desert is asinine. It's time to blow up the way water is distributed in this region and phase in a new system over a 5-10 year period.
 

lucas80

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Jan 30, 2008
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Who would've guessed millions of people living in a desert was a bad idea?

Historically, the past hundred years or so have been wetter than usual in the SW USA. Things are just reverting back to normal.
Check out the Phoenix area. I like to visit, but the growth projections really don't seem to match up with the water they have. Of course, to the developers that's someone else's problem.
 

seminole97

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Jun 14, 2005
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The root of the problem is an ongoing, 23-year drought, the worst stretch for the region in more than a millennium.
The Colorado River was divided up among seven states a century ago.


On bad estimates:

The delegates figured allocations on hydrologic data from the Reclamation Bureau that indicated annual Colorado River flow at Lees Ferry to be 16.4 maf. In truth, however, Colorado River flow is a good deal less than that. Data from three centuries indicate an average flow of about 13.5 maf. Also, flows are highly erratic, ranging from 4.4 maf to over 22 maf.
 

seminole97

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Jun 14, 2005
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Who would've guessed millions of people living in a desert was a bad idea?

Historically, the past hundred years or so have been wetter than usual in the SW USA. Things are just reverting back to normal.
Millions of people living there isn't really the problem.
Growing lettuce in the desert is the problem.

The water needs to be appropriately priced. Right now it isn't.
 

Hawk_4shur

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Jan 2, 2009
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Ya' know, it's not like this problem suck up on anyone. Not to mention this little problem .....

Hoover Dam generates, on average, about 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power each year for use in Nevada, Arizona, and California - enough to serve 1.3 million people. From 1939 to 1949, Hoover Powerplant was the world's largest hydroelectric installation; today, it is still one of the country's largest.

No water, no power from Hoover Dam.


🤷‍♀️
 

h-hawk

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Jan 29, 2002
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When we lived in Denver we were surprised to learn that rain barrels were illegal. The state wanted every drop of water they can get flowing into streams. They have since started allowing them.
 

LuciousBDragon

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Aug 31, 2017
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Check out the Phoenix area. I like to visit, but the growth projections really don't seem to match up with the water they have. Of course, to the developers that's someone else's problem.
Phoenix is going to be OK and all developers have the burden of proving there is water to support their development.
 

LuciousBDragon

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Aug 31, 2017
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What is crazy is under Tier 1 and now Tier 2 restrictions, the State of California is not required to give up one drop of water.

The 1920’s era compacts need renegotiated at the State level. Appears the Biden admin is ready to step in if the States cannot get it done.
 
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Kinnick.At.Night

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Jun 27, 2018
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Water trains! Imagine the Class 1 railroads of the West, Union Pacific and BNSF, running trains full of fresh water to the drought areas. A single train could bring around 3 million gallons of water to drought areas. They wouldn't solve the problem, but they'd certainly help.
 

DogBoyRy

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Jul 28, 2006
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Water trains! Imagine the Class 1 railroads of the West, Union Pacific and BNSF, running trains full of fresh water to the drought areas. A single train could bring around 3 million gallons of water to drought areas. They wouldn't solve the problem, but they'd certainly help.
Warren buffet would support this.