Opinion: Colorado River Water Fight that Pit California Against the West May Evaporate — For Now

When California and six other Western states failed to meet a Jan. 31 federal deadline for deciding how to allocate water from the drought-ravaged Colorado River that supplies drinking water to 40 million people — 1 in 8 Americans — it was the Golden State that called the others all wet.

Citing the labyrinthine world of vested water rights, which guarantees it the most water from the 1,450-mile-long river, California objected to a plan backed by the other states — Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah — on the grounds it should not have to bear an equal share of the federal government’s call for an annual reduction in Colorado River water of at least 15 percent.

Colorado River-river-Climate Change-Sandra L. Kerl-Water Authority

Water Authority Testifies on California’s Efforts to Support the Colorado River

During state Assembly testimony on Tuesday, May 2, San Diego County Water Authority General Manager Sandra L. Kerl highlighted the steps taken by the Water Authority and partner water agencies across California to support the Colorado River in the era of climate change.

Kerl joined representatives from the Colorado River Board of California, the Imperial Irrigation District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the California Natural Resources Agency, and the environmental community. A theme throughout the hearing was that California is prepared to do more to help the river, but all seven Basin states must be involved in a consensus-based approach.

“When you ask how California is responding and preparing for the effects of climate change, I offer the San Diego region’s focus on a diversified water supply portfolio as an example of focusing on conservation and water management while also developing new drought-proof supplies,” Kerl told the committee.

Climate change and water supply

Tuesday’s hearing before the state Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife in Sacramento focused on the effects of climate change on the Colorado River and actions California water agencies have taken to address the river’s challenges.

More than 20 years of drought have led to record low elevation levels in lakes Mead and Powell, the two critical reservoirs California and the Lower Basin depend on for their river supplies. While heavy storms this winter and spring improved river conditions, concerns remain over the long-term effects of climate change. Efforts are underway to find lasting, durable solutions for the river.

Kerl highlighted the leadership California has shown in conservation through the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement or QSA, which has enabled California to live within its 4.4-million-acre-foot apportionment while helping the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation manage river supplies. At the center of the QSA, is the conserved water transfer agreement between the Water Authority and the Imperial Irrigation District.

“In total, our QSA partnerships have conserved more than 3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water since 2003 and done so in a way that supports California’s critical agricultural economy, funds socio-economic needs, and addresses the environment, most importantly the Salton Sea,” Kerl said. She noted that the QSA is an example for other Basin states to follow in implementing conservation.

Collaboration on Colorado River Basin solutions

Kerl and others expressed hope that Basin states can collaborate to keep the water flowing for all river users.

“I am confident that we will find a shared solution that moves us forward to conserve the water we need to stabilize the system and then look forward to guideline updates,” said California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot.

His comments referenced upcoming discussions on the river’s future operating guidelines, which take effect in 2026.

Colorado River Board of California Chairman JB Hamby from the Imperial Irrigation District said, “California is working with our in-state stakeholders, tribes, and Mexico via the United States to be able to deal with this in the next short-term basis and the long term.”

Metropolitan Water District General Manager Adel Hagekhalil added, “Working together, we must develop equitable, realistic solutions that reduce our collective reliance on the river.”

During her testimony, Kerl told the committee that any solutions must uphold the Law of the River, the priority right system and California’s senior rights. “It’s critical that Reclamation consider both the near-term and future operations of the river by building on the foundation of the laws, court decisions, compacts and agreements that have come before,” she said.

Opinion: No Choice But For Big Cuts Along The Colorado River Basin

Water levels have dwindled and remain at a historic low in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the largest human-made reservoirs in the United States – so low in Lake Mead a year ago that it came close to hitting dead pool status, which occurs when water levels are too low to generate electricity.

Colorado River: Can Feds Legally Cut IID, Other Rural Water District Allotments?

The powerful Imperial Irrigation District and others with historic first dibs to Colorado River water are once again facing possible threats to their jealously guarded supply. At a press conference at the Hoover Dam on Tuesday, federal officials announced possible unprecedented, across-the-board cuts to all water contractors in three states if levels in its massive reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, fall so low that they might no longer function.

Water Authority Supports Talks on Fed Draft Colorado River Proposal

The San Diego County Water Authority supports a consensus-based approach for long-term solutions to water supply issues in the Colorado River Basin. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on April 11 released a draft environmental document that considers changes to near-term operations on the Colorado River, including potential reductions in water supplies for California and across the Lower Colorado River Basin.

Snowpack Rising: Good Water News for Now, but Lake Mead Unlikely to See a Difference

Snow is forecast every day this week in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, and snowpack levels have climbed to nearly 150% as warmer spring temperatures near.

It could be the winter we remember as one of the bright spots in a drought that defined the past two decades in the Colorado River Basin.

Opinion: California Resists Bullying Along the Colorado River

There’s one word for what six of the seven southwestern states that draw water from the Colorado River are trying to do to California: bullying.

The good news for Californians is that Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t standing for it.

California Finds Itself Isolated, Alone in Battle Over Colorado River Water Cuts

After a key deadline passed this week without an agreement on how to address the Colorado River’s crisis, California is now sharply at odds with six other states over how to take less water from the shrinking river.

Now that California has rejected a plan offered by the rest of the region, the state has entered a political tug-of-war with high stakes. So why has the state that uses the most Colorado River water decided to go it alone?

Water Managers Across Drought-Stricken West Agree on One Thing: ‘This is Going to be Painful’

Water authorities in the Western U.S. don’t have a crystal ball, but rapidly receding reservoirs uncovering sunken boats and other debris lost in their depths decades ago give a clear view of the hard choices ahead.

If western states do not agree on a plan to safeguard the Colorado River — the source of the region’s vitality — there won’t be enough water for anyone.

A Century Ago, This Water Agreement Changed the West. Now, the Region is in Crisis

The Colorado River has long been regarded as the “lifeline of the Southwest.” It supplies water to 40 million people in seven states, 29 Native American tribes and parts of Mexico. Farmers use it to irrigate nearly 5.5 million acres of agricultural land. One hundred years ago this month, the signing of the Colorado River Compact laid the foundation for how water from the river is used today.