LAS VEGAS (KLAS)– The Colorado River has been considered the most endangered river in the country for two decades.
But the other states in the river compact have acted like it’s no big deal, instead of preparing by implementing water conservation.
The worst drought in 1,200 years has helped make the point that the Colorado River system is in big trouble. It’s overallocated and underappreciated. Department of Interior officials spoke Tuesday about partnerships and cooperation among the river compact states, but to many, that sounds like wishful thinking.
The seven states, tribes, and Mexico were given two months to come up with plans to reduce water use, but other than Nevada and Arizona, other partners simply weren’t willing to budge.
“The circumstances we face will require swift actions and increased water conservation in every state and every sector,” said Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of Interior. “We all have a responsibility to ensure the water we do have is used with maximum efficiency and that additional conservation will occur.”
However, if it’s going to happen, the feds will likely have to force it. Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger has spent the last few years trying to nudge his contemporaries into taking the kind of conservation action that has left Nevada, which gets the smallest amount of water from the river, in much better shape than larger states which get humungous allocations.
Entsminger issued a scathing letter on Monday about the failure of other states to come to the table in a meaningful way. He singled out what he called “drought profiteers.” For example, the Imperial Valley of southern California. As the I-Team has reported, that district gets millions of acre-feet of water per year and uses much of it to grow alfalfa, a water-intensive crop that is mostly exported to China for animal feed.
“Ordinarily, I stay out of my neighbor’s business,” said Entsminger, “But when you have a math problem, and 80 percent of the water use is in agriculture, and 80 percent of that 80 percent is for forage crops which are largely exported, it’s hard to see how that’s not part of the solution.”
Water officials outlined various scenarios for the river system and for lakes Mead and Powell, based on a new 24-month study, and most scenarios look fairly grim.
Climate change makes it unlikely there will be a dramatic turnaround in the foreseeable future, if ever. The department says everything is on the table, and when asked twice about whether they would consider draining Lake Powell, they didn’t say no.