The Colorado River provides water for millions of people, including Coloradans from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains. But much of the river system is overallocated, its waters are overused and its flows are shrinking. “It’s not a rosy picture. We’ve been in a drought for a very long time,” said Kevin Reidy, senior state water efficiency specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s top water agency. “Really, what we’re looking at is aridification across the state, across the Southwest.”
Rob Ford was watering his hay last October at his small Washington County, Utah, ranch when he realized the flow was weaker than usual. He called the irrigation manager who monitors the water levels.
“The water is really weak,” Ford said he told the irrigation manager. “Is that about what we are expecting today?”
The Department of Interior has indicated that if states don’t cooperate on dividing Colorado River water, more cuts may be on the way.
The agency indicated that California could also face cutbacks, which means that the state’s wait-and-see strategy may have fallen short.
California has senior water rights to the Colorado River, and so far, that has worked in its favor.
The Bureau of Reclamation March 28, announced an increase in Central Valley Project 2023 water supply allocations. After below average precipitation in February, Reclamation announced a conservative initial water supply allocation for the CVP on Feb. 22. Additional atmospheric river systems have since boosted hydrological conditions and storage volumes, allowing for a more robust water supply allocation.
Since making initial allocations last month, Shasta Reservoir, the cornerstone of the Central Valley Project, has increased from 59% to 81%, and San Luis Reservoir, the largest reservoir south-of-Delta, from 64% to 97%. Record-breaking snowpack conditions currently exist in the Southern Sierra coupled with significant snowpack in the Central Sierra and Northern Sierra/Trinity.
There is an old saying in the water world that it is better to be upstream with a shovel than downstream with a law book, which is the position California finds itself in as it stands apart from its neighbors on the Colorado River in negotiations over the use of the river’s water.
On Jan. 31, representatives for the six other basin states submitted a proposal to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, describing the measures by which the supply deficit on the Colorado River should be closed in the near term.
A man in Arizona sees a glimpse of a potentially frightening future. A future where the planet is hotter, the soil is drier, and our most precious resource is evaporating.
His job is delivering water. And his job is getting harder.
John Hornewer is now having to drive hours farther each day to fill his truck, which, in turn, fills the subterranean tanks at homes in an area outside Phoenix.
With a much improved rainfall season and snowpack — at least for one year — the water allocation outlook for the area appears to be looking much better than in past years.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation has stated it’s requesting a 100 percent water allocation locally for Class 1 Friant contractors. In addition is stated it plans to request a 20 percent allocation for Class 2 contractors.
The federal government is designating $4 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act for drought mitigation work in the Colorado River basin.
On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior announced that total, indicating that $500 million will go to efficiency upgrades in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Another chunk of IRA money will be set aside for direct payments to farmers and ranchers to forgo water deliveries from Lake Mead in the river’s Lower Basin, primarily in Arizona and California. Federal officials are not specifying how much money will be available for that first round of payments.
California’s offer to conserve some of its share of Colorado River water over the next few years won’t solve the looming water and power crisis in the West — but it might be enough to kickstart negotiations among the states on a deal that could.
The biggest hurdle to striking an agreement that would sharply curtail water use among the seven states that share the river has been the impasse between the two thirstiest states — California and Arizona — over which should shoulder the brunt of the cuts as climate change fuels the deepest drought in the region in 1,200 years.
A few hundred farms in the southern tip of California, along the Mexican border, may hold the key to saving the drought-plagued Colorado River from collapse.
These farmers, in Imperial County, currently draw more water from the Colorado River than all of Arizona and Nevada combined. They inherited the legal right to use that water, but they’re now under pressure to give up some of it.