LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Conservation groups criticized states and the federal government for “an agreement that fails to meaningfully reduce” water consumption as a Tuesday deadline for a plan arrived.
The U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have been silent since the plan was released Monday minus a signature from California — the biggest water user among the seven states that rely on the river.
But conservationists condemned the plan signed by Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
“Yesterday’s deal would not stabilize the system, but it would make Upper Basin water managers happy for years to come,” said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network. “The proposal’s priority right now is propping up Lake Powell and covering up an open secret: Glen Canyon Dam is a liability to our water supply, our prized ecosystems, and the future of the Colorado River.”
In August, conservation groups released information that showed Glen Canyon Dam is essentially a plug in the river that cannot meet the water delivery requirements in the Colorado River Compact if it drops below a certain level. The Bureau of Reclamation has released water from upstream and held back water that should have gone to Lake Mead in order to maintain Lake Powell’s level over the past year.
Conservationists have urged the government to explore a way to release water from Lake Powell at lower levels, even if it means the dam couldn’t produce power.
“Two decades of climate change denial and a failure to be transparent about the archaic plumbing problems inside Glen Canyon Dam are dooming the water supply for 25 million Americans downstream of this antique,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council.
Details of the six-state plan were contained in a nine-page letter sent to the federal government agencies in charge of managing the river:
John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said all states have been negotiating in good faith.
“I don’t view not having unanimity at one step in that process to be a failure,” he said late Monday. “I think all seven states are still committed to working together.”
But it might signal California’s intent to defend its right to river water in court. The agreement includes changes in water allocations that will affect California as the level of Lake Mead continues to drop. The state has shown its willingness to cut water use, but it isn’t signing the new agreement.
California released a proposal last October to cut 400,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is enough water to supply two to three U.S. households for a year.
Scientists predict that the Colorado River’s flows will continue to decrease in the coming decades. The Colorado River has experienced a significant drop in water flows. Experts say that’s the result of climate change that isn’t going away.
“The Colorado River is running out of water, and if we don’t act soon, we could lose much of the American West as we know it,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet said Tuesday.
He said the states that signed the agreement “did exactly what we needed. We forged a common vision that will protect the Colorado River and the 40 million people, and more than 30 Tribes, who rely on it.”
He urged Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to enact the agreement from the six states.
“California’s decision not to join this consensus is deeply disappointing. We are facing the most serious drought in 1,200 years. California must step forward and be part of the solution. For too long, the other six states, and particularly the Upper Basin, have carried the burden of this historic drought,” Bennet said.
Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo issued a statement Monday afternoon applauding what he sees as a step forward.
“I’m proud that Nevada continues to work productively with our fellow Colorado River basin states to update river management and secure the future of the Southwest. This letter, signed by six states, is a major step forward, and one that will hopefully prevent draconian cuts to river allocations,” Lombardo said.
“Nevada’s water conservation efforts over recent decades have put our state in a position to withstand additional reasonable cuts to Colorado River allocations without jeopardizing our state’s economic future,” Lombardo said. “I’m hopeful that this framework will lead to a prosperous future for all river users, and as I said in my State of the State address last week, I look forward to taking an active role in ensuring Nevada’s future is protected while we work collaboratively with other states on a resolution.”