The federal government has asked western states to come to an agreement on water cuts.
California could not reach an agreement with six other states on the Colorado River.
The proposed cuts come as thousands of years of drought have reduced water supplies millions rely on.
Western states failed to agree this week on how to reduce water use from the Colorado River, even as the waterway dries up and the water supplies that cities, farms, and millions of people depend on fail. to replenish.
Well, six of the seven states that are part of the Colorado basin reached an agreement, but California — the biggest user of water from the river — wouldn’t get on board.
The six states – Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – submitted their proposal for water cuts on Monday, after all states missed an August deadline for requests from the Bureau of Reclamation SA. The new deadline asked the states to propose a plan by the end of January that would cut water use from the river by 15 to 30%.
But after failing to sign off on that plan, California submitted its own proposal on Tuesday.
“Both proposals recognize that something big needs to be done,” Sharon B. Megdal, director of the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona, told Insider, adding: “We need a complete readjustment or a complete recalibration of the we have. ‘doing.’
“At least they put things down on paper, which is a lot better than having nothing,” she said of the dueling proposals.
Both plans propose major cuts, although how, when and where those cuts would be made differ. According to Jeff Fleck, a professor at the University of New Mexico and an expert on the Colorado River, both proposals get to the same place over time, but the difference is “in time.”
“California’s cuts don’t start until later — essentially gambling on good hydrology again that helps us avoid conflict by allowing us to use more water in the short term,” Fleck wrote in an analysis of the proposals shared on his blog , adding that “the six-state proposal says ‘significantly'” when Lake Mead falls below a certain level that would be sooner than under the California plan.
“The six-state proposal removes the bandit now,” he said.
The proposals also differ on how the cuts would be allocated
California, which has the largest allocation of Colorado River water, has senior rights, allowing it to be one of the last states to cut when there is a shortage.
“The strongest thing the other basin states have going for them is a relative level of consensus. And the strongest thing California has going for it is the law,” said Rhett Larson, a professor of water law at Arizona State University, with the Los. Angeles Times.
Still, despite the failure to reach an agreement by the federal government’s deadline, the states may eventually agree on a plan, and state officials have said they are all continuing to cooperate.
“I don’t think it’s a failure not to have unanimity at one stage in that process,” John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told the Associated Press. “I think the seven states are still committed to working together.”
If the states cannot come to an agreement on their own, that could require the federal government to step in, raising the risk of court battles, drawing out a situation where “time is of the essence,” said Megdal, adding “going to court does not create water.”
She also emphasized the importance of having these written recommendations, which could be used to build consensus and help reach consensus, but most importantly said that all states appear to be willing to make major cuts make water. The hardest part could come even after cuts are agreed upon, when states will have to decide how all the different water users – municipal, agricultural, industrial, tribal – will be affected.
“The challenge is that we need to find a balance again in terms of water use and what the system is producing,” she said. “We have survived on borrowed water.”
Megdal explained that many states rely on water from reservoirs fed by the Colorado River, such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which have reached historic lows after three decades of drought and climate change impacts.
“That warehouse is not being replenished,” she said. “We have to find a balance with what nature is providing us.”
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