LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A letter from congressional representatives in Nevada and Arizona urges swift action from the Biden administration to get started on solutions for the Colorado River, which supplies water for 40 million people.
The letter makes reference to the federal government filling “any critical gaps where interstate, Tribal, and international agreement continues to prove elusive.”
That means California — the lone holdout, which refused to sign on to the recommendations hammered out by Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The six-state agreement was sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in advance of a Tuesday, Jan. 31, deadline the government set for a collaborative agreement.
U.S. Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., released a copy of the letter sent to President Joe Biden. The letter is also signed by U.S Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and Arizona Reps. Greg Stanton, a Democrat, and Debbie Lesko, a Republican. The full text of the letter appears at the bottom of this story.
“The Colorado River crisis is one that affects upwards of 10% of the population of the United States as well as millions more in Mexico,” the letter said. “It is time for federal water managers to act to safeguard the Colorado River System, and the Consensus Based Modeling Alternative provides a roadmap to avoid devastating economic impacts while sharing in the sacrifice of adapting to a permanently reduced water supply. We urge your administration to move with all possible speed in taking the necessary steps pursuant to DOI’s authority under applicable federal law to help advance and refine this proposal — and, in doing so, save a vital national and international resource and secure a sustainable future for all in the Colorado River Basin.”
Lee’s appointment to the House Appropriations Committee for Energy and Water Development was announced Tuesday.
There has been plenty of talk — including boasting about past accomplishments and finger-pointing that laid blame on others — but no true agreement among the seven states in the Colorado River Basin since Bureau of Reclamation Director Camille Calimlim Touton asked for a plan to cut water use by 2 million acre-feet to 4 million acre-feet.
An acre-foot is roughly 325,000 gallons — enough water to supply two to three U.S. households for a year. The term’s meaning: the amount of water it takes to cover an acre in a foot of water.
The letter encourages the federal government to step into the giant gap left by California’s refusal to participate in the agreement. California is the largest water user among the seven states. California has instead proposed cutting 400,000 acre-feet from its allocation, which will mean changes in agricultural allotments in the Imperial Valley, an important food source for the country.
The stakes are enormously high, and the arguments could wind up in court.
But for now, the four members of Congress are urging Biden to get to work immediately on a time-consuming review of the environmental implications of the agreement that is on the table.
In large part, Nevada’s water officials started the conversation, crafting the only proposal that addressed water use in all seven states. That framework has been modified into the existing six-state agreement, which includes shared penalties for Nevada, Arizona and California for water that evaporates or seeps away as it runs through canals and tunnels on its way to its destination.
The six-state agreement:
The proposal also contains adjustments to river water allocations as the level of Lake Mead continues to plummet. Lake Mead is currently just below 1,047 feet (the elevation at the surface of the lake, compared to sea level). The plan would immediately trigger as long as the lake is below 1,050 feet, and additional adjustments are staggered as the level drops to 1,030 feet and then again at 1,020 feet.
The agreement seeks to protect Lake Mead from dropping below 1,000 feet, a goal that had never been specifically laid out before.
Over the past year, the focus has been on maintaining Lake Powell’s level at 3,500 feet to maintain power production and water releases that meet the terms of the Colorado River Pact. The agreement addresses levels at both reservoirs — the nation’s largest — going forward.