You’re likely aware of water shortages that have been increasing in the southwestern U.S. Now, those projected shortages are becoming reality. It’s not just bad news for the local residents; the region is the biggest food producer for our country. For many decades, the Colorado River has been the primary source of water for the southwestern states. Now, the river is down to its lowest levels.
What can you do about this situation, personally?
o o o o o o
Feds cut Colorado River
allocation to Arizona,
Nevada as talks fail
States along the Colorado River have officially missed a federally imposed deadline to develop a new water-sharing agreement, and the federal government on Tuesday announced new water allocation reductions, including nearly 25 percent in cuts to Arizona.
The Colorado River basin serves seven states — an Upper Basin of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and a lower one of Arizona, California and Nevada — and its waters are allocated based on the terms of a century-old agreement from when there was substantially more water in the river.
Meanwhile, the region is facing a
the worst in centuries.
In June, the Interior Department gave the states 60 days to agree on a new allocation plan for an additional 15 percent reduction on top of expected federal reductions before the federal government stepped in. That period expired Tuesday.
In a news conference Tuesday, federal Bureau of Reclamation officials announced cuts to the yearly water allocation to Arizona and Nevada, as well as Mexico, which is also party to the compact. The bureau will withhold about 21 percent of Arizona’s yearly water allocation next year, as well as 8 percent of Nevada’s.
California will not see its allocation affected, and no immediate changes are planned for the Upper Basin.
“Everything blew up” in negotiations last week, Kyle Roerink, executive director at the Great Basin Water Network, told The Hill in an interview. He said …
“You had some parties bringing a good
chunk of water to the table. Others didn’t
even want to be bothered with coming
to the table with anything meaningful.”
As a result, as of Monday evening, the states had not reached an agreement
“as the nation’s largest reservoirs
rapidly deplete themselves.”
In January, Lake Mead will be at the level required for a Tier 2 shortage, 1,050 feet above sea level, for the first time ever, according to federal officials.
Roerink called the breakdown a microcosm of the poor relations among stakeholders on the river. The major players, whom he dubbed the “water buffaloes,” have “touted their ability to collaborate and coordinate and negotiate in a civilized manner, but if the last week is any indicator, folks are not singing ‘Kumbaya,’ they are sharpening their knives,” he said.
Rather than negotiate towards a mutually beneficial agreement, he said, parties have been focused on reaching an arrangement that benefits them at the expense of others. He said …
“What we are seeing is a situation where
folks are talking about for legislation,
litigation, other tactics to try and get
the best deal, they believe, for their re-
spective constituencies. But I think one
way to describe what we’re seeing so
far is that there are entities out there
that think this is a zero-sum game.”
John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, specifically blamed what he referred to as “drought profiteering” in a Monday letter to federal officials.
Christopher Kuzdas, a senior water program manager with the Environmental Defense Fund, said …
“Over the last 20 years, there’s been several
years where there were opportunities to not
take all the water from the system, but we
still did. So we kept drawing down our water
supplies in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
“And so those water supplies in those lakes,
almost roughly 60 million acre-feet of water,
that’s been our buffer that has allowed us to
keep going forward using more water than
actually provided by the river each year.”
Now, however, water use has exceeded the cushion Lakes Mead and Powell provided, Kuzdas said. Compounding the issue, another abnormally dry winter in the Rocky Mountains could reduce runoff from snowpack to the point that there is insufficient storage in the two reservoirs to avert “a major water supply system failure.”
Notably, one X-factor is present that wasn’t there in June: billions of dollars in drought preparedness funds for the river from the Inflation Reduction Act, the tax and climate package President Biden is signing into law Tuesday. The law includes $4 billion in funds to rent, buy or save water for the beleaguered basin.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton and other federal officials emphasized in Tuesday’s phone call the flexibility the funds will provide, but acknowledged the reality of the cuts as well. Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said …
“As dire as this situation is, there are reasons
for encouragement. We’re bringing resources
to the table in the form of infrastructure in-
vestments to help with water delivery, im-
provement so the system to support effici-
ency, and support for users, including ir-
rigators, as everyone has to tighten
their belts in this situation.”
Kuzdas called the funds in the Inflation Reduction Act “a really positive element” in charting a path forward. However, he said, the affected area will still need to develop more long-term plans to adjust for water use in line with the available supply of water in a warmer world. He said …
“Are we going to need a lot more funding
to do that? Probably … But we’ve kind of
started going down the path where we’re
looking at real lasting, durable solutions
that involve less water use year over year
as a pattern, probably permanently.”
Roerink said …
“I think the question then ultimately
becomes, well, if money is the only
way to solve all these problems, are
we going to be putting ourselves in
a position where year after year,
Uncle Sam opens up his checkbook?”
o o o o o o
I’m starting this epilogue with one of the article’s comments, ”there are entities out there that think this is a zero-sum game.” That signaled the most dangerous aspect of this problem. Ideal outcomes are win-win. But if only one can win, which is “zero-sum” – as in sports – then the full range of tactics come to play, so “our side can win.” However, if the situation is one in which both parties can win … as in a marriage, officers in a business relationship, farmers in a valley … and if the constituents use competitive win-lose tactics, the outcome is consistently lose-lose. In this case, ”lose” may also mean sayonara!
One of the mantras governing our ability to sustain is, “Water is destiny.” 55% – 60% of our bodies are made up of water. And water is essential for producing the food we need. In history, entire civilizations have disappeared due to their lack of water. When archeologists discover their ruins, and are amazed at how advanced those civilizations were in so many ways, they wonder why those civilizations could not have solved their water problems.
Perhaps their leaders were also squabbling over gun control legislation or abortion rights or voting rights or what subjects were legitimate for children … as they ran out of food and vanished. Some thoughts from D …
“Without water, life ceases to exist. When looking at where one lives, one must consider the availability of water. Water for humans and water for growing food as well as for farm animals. Please consider where you live and make water one of your decision factors. Water storage, such as with rain barrels or cisterns, can delay personal water shortages. But after twenty or so years, that may not be enough.
“In terms of increasing water-use efficiency – such as with lo-flow toilets or showers, taking out grass lawns, desert-scaping, etc. – unless virtually everyone in the region changes their water-use behaviors, relocation is ultimately your best solution.”