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The Colorado River: The Redistribution of Water

The Colorado River

The Colorado River is over allocated.

The Colorado River: “It is incumbent for us to safeguard, protect what we have left.”

By Linn Smith
February 6, 2019—The Colorado River has been over allotted from the beginning, as the Law of the River, a compact made in 1922 between the 7 Colorado River Basin states for the river usage, was made during a time of high precipitation. Today the population of states along the river has increased and the river has decreased due to over use and climate change.

Since the development of the compact, California has been using the surplus water that other states haven’t used in the lower basin states that include Arizona and Nevada.

With population growth both Arizona and Nevada are claiming their water allotments and the Upper Basin states have accused CAP, Central Arizona Project, of manipulating its share of water to keep Lake Mead low enough that the upper basin is required to send extra water, but high enough to avoid mandatory cutbacks in lower basin consumption.

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Colorado River: Lower Basin States

The lower basin states and Mexico depend, at least partially, on the water they get from Lake Mead and if the situation called “dead pool” develops, the level of the lake’s surface would fall below the gates of the dam that release the water. In this situation the lower basin states and Mexico would not receive water. To avoid this situation cutbacks are required. In the book “Dead Pool” by James Lawrence Powell, Powell states, “At present, Lake Powell is less than half full. Bathtub rings ten stories tall encircle its blue water; boat ramps and marinas lie stranded and useless. To refill it would require surplus water-but there is no surplus water: burgeoning populations and thirsty crops consume every drop of the Colorado River. Add to this picture the looming effects of global warming and drought, and the scenario becomes bleaker still.” This book was written in 2011. Today Lake Mead stands at 1079 ft, four ft away from the mandatory federal shortage declaration that would mandate cutbacks.

In an attempt to resolve the issue the Federal Government put a deadline on lower basin states to resolve the issues over water rights. The past several weeks have shown an attempt towards resolution. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects an agreement on the drought plan by the end of January, 2019.

Colorado River

Depletion of water for crop irrigation

The Arizona Drought Plan

The drought plan requires Arizona to find a way to reduce its use of Colorado River water by up to 700,000 acre-feet — more than twice Nevada’s yearly allocation under the drought plan. An acre-foot is the volume of water needed to cover one acre of surface to a depth of one foot.

Arizona, the only state that required legislation to take less water from the river, was forced this month to either pass legislation by the end of January 2019 or let the federal government impose water restrictions, which could have meant less water than if state imposed. In Arizona the recent legislation resulted in negotiations between major water users, who agreed to reduce their water usage in exchange for cash or access to groundwater in the future.

Farmers in Pinal County, Az, who have the lowest priority to water rights, will receive restitution which includes $9 million to drill wells and build infrastructure to change from dependency on river water to groundwater. The farmers, who reluctantly supported the agreement, said it would require them to fallow as much as 40 percent of the county’s farmland.

“We inherited as human beings a pristine land with pristine water, and we messed it up as human beings ourselves,” said Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, a Democrat who represents the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona and voted to join the drought plan. “It is incumbent for us to safeguard, protect what we have left.”

See also: https://planetearth5.com/?s=the+colorado+river
https://planetearth5.com/2018/09/11/the-law-of-the-river-the-over-allotment-of-the-colorado-river/

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The Law of the River: Over Allotment of the Colorado

The Colorado River

The Colorado River is over allocated.

“The Colorado River has been over allocated from the beginning.”

By Linn Smith
September 11, 2018—-The Law of the River is a Colorado River Compact formed in 1922. It’s an agreement between 7 states in the Colorado River Basin. The upper division is Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming and the Lower Basin states are Arizona, Nevada and California. All management of the river is called the “Law of the River.”

High Precipitation in 1922

Tree rings have been studied from 1922 which show that the flow of the Colorado River during the original signing was at an all time high. The 3 years around the establishment of water rights were very wet years with high precipitation. Therein lies part of the problem of over allotment of the Colorado River. The river was at peak flow in 1922, allowing more than enough water for all.

The colorado river

Actions we can take to help preserve the Colorado River.

The Law of the River

The Law of the River declares the upper basin states should not deplete the flow of the river below 7,500,00 acre ft. (An acre foot would be equivalent to an acre of land being flooded with 1 foot depth of water) during any 10 consecutive years. But rainfall was at an all time high when the Law of the River pact was signed. With the rainfall patterns of 1922, this would have allowed for a roughly equal flow between the upper and lower basins and enabled widespread irrigation of the arid southwest to grow fruits, and vegetables, as it continually had done with very few problems in the 20th century.

Water depletion

Irrigation in the Southwest U.S.

The Colorado River and Population Growth

Today the population of states along the Colorado River has increased, requiring greater demand on the river, which has decreased, causing many legal water disputes. Over 40 million people, 18 million in lower basin states, depend on the Colorado river for water and the power it creates. Hoover Dam generates, on average, about 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power each year for use in Nevada, Arizona, and California – enough to serve 1.3 million people! Without the Colorado River and the power it generates, millions of people would have a greater dependency on fossil fuels.

Since the development of the river compact, California has been using the surplus water that other states haven’t used in the lower basin. But with population growth both Arizona and Nevada are claiming their water allotments, forcing California to resort to greater water conservation policies. Growth in the other lower basin states will not allow the surplus flow to California.
(see, https://planetearth5.com/2018/08/26/irrigation-and-water-depletion-in-the-southwest-united-states/)

The Colorado river

Farmers in the Southwest are left little water for irrigation.

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The Drought in the Southwest

The Colorado River has been over allocated from the beginning and the flows were overestimated. The estimation was 17 million acre ft a year, but the flow has been much less for most of the years since the signing of the compact. Forecasts state that the Colorado river will only carry about 43% of the allotted water into Lake Powell in the future, as the drought in the Southwest has been taking place for the past 18 years, which some say is a permanent shift at least in part due to global warming.

Conserving the Colorado River

Kim Mitchell of Western Resource Advocates states, “People in the seven S.W. states must learn to live with less water. Unless we take decisive proactive steps now, farmers, cities, business and environment all will lose water….they must understand that more water is being pulled out of the river than is being replaced. The problem is compounded by a long-term drought and climate change.” U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Aug 15, 2018, anticipates declaration shortage in Sept 2019 that would trigger reduced water releases from federal reservoirs in the lower basin states.

Recently the Upper Basin states accused CAP, Central Arizona Project, of manipulating its share of water to keep Lake Mead low enough that the upper basin is required to send extra water, but high enough to avoid mandatory cutbacks in lower basin consumption. The water wars will continue!

Adoption of additional water conservation measures now is the best approach to protect the Colorado River as continued long-term solutions are developed.

Depletion of the Colorado River

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