Colorado River water users convening amid crisis concerns

Dec 12, 2022, 1:19 PM | Updated: Dec 13, 2022, 3:21 am
FILE - A buoy sits high and dry on cracked earth previously under the waters of Lake Mead at the La...

FILE - A buoy sits high and dry on cracked earth previously under the waters of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nev., on June 28, 2022. Living with less water in the U.S. Southwest is the focus for a conference starting Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas, about the drought-stricken and overpromised Colorado River. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

              FILE - A formerly sunken boat sits upright into the air with its stern stuck in the mud along the shoreline of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on June 10, 2022, near Boulder City, Nev. Living with less water in the U.S. Southwest is the focus for a conference starting Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas, about the drought-stricken and overpromised Colorado River. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
            
              FILE - The Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon on the Hualapai reservation on Aug. 15, 2022, in northwestern Arizona. Living with less water in the U.S. Southwest is the focus for a conference starting Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas, about the drought-stricken and overpromised Colorado River. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
            
              FILE - Water from the Colorado River diverted through the Central Arizona Project fills an irrigation canal on Aug. 18, 2022, in Maricopa, Ariz. Living with less water in the U.S. Southwest is the focus for a conference starting Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas about the drought-stricken and overpromised Colorado River. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
            
              FILE - Joe Bernal walks on his family's farm on Sept. 1, 2022, in Fruita, Colo. Living with less water in the U.S. Southwest is the focus for a conference starting Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas, about the drought-stricken and overpromised Colorado River. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun via AP, File)
            
              FILE - A buoy sits high and dry on cracked earth previously under the waters of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nev., on June 28, 2022. Living with less water in the U.S. Southwest is the focus for a conference starting Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, in Las Vegas, about the drought-stricken and overpromised Colorado River. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Living with less water in the U.S. Southwest is the focus this week for state and federal water administrators, tribal officials, farmers, academics and business representatives meeting about the drought-stricken and overpromised Colorado River.

The Colorado River Water Users Association conference, normally a largely academic three-day affair, comes at a time of growing concern about the river’s future after more than two decades of record drought attributed to climate change.

“The Colorado River system is in a very dire condition,” Dan Bunk, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water manager, declared during internet presentations streamed Nov. 29 and Dec. 2 that invited public comment about possible actions.

“Flows during the past 23-year period … are the lowest in the past 120 years and (among) the lowest in more than 1,200 years,” Bunk told the webinar audience. The deadline for public submissions is Dec. 20 for a process expected to yield a final report by summer.

Bunk said the two largest reservoirs on the river — Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona state line and Lake Powell formed by the Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona-Utah line — are at unprecedented low levels. Lake Mead was at 100% capacity in mid-1999. Today it is 28% full. Lake Powell, last full in June 1980, is at 25%.

Scientists attribute extended drought to warmer and drier weather in the West to long-term, human-caused climate change. The effect has been dramatic on a vast river basin where the math never added up: The amount of water it receives doesn’t meet the amount that is promised.

Lake Powell’s drop last March to historically low water levels raised worries about losing the ability — perhaps within the next few months — to produce hydropower that today serves about 5 million customers in seven states. If power production ceases at Glen Canyon Dam, rural electric cooperatives, cities and tribal utilities would be forced to seek more expensive options.

Reclamation water managers responded with plans to hold back more water in Lake Powell but warned that Lake Mead water levels would drop.

Meanwhile, bodies have surfaced as Lake Mead’s shoreline recedes, including the corpse of a man who authorities say was shot, maybe in the 1970s, and stuffed in a barrel. He remains unidentified. The gruesome discoveries renewed interest in the lore of organized crime and the early days of the Las Vegas Strip, just a 30-minute drive from the lake.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in June told the seven states that are part of the Colorado River Basin — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — to determine how to use at least 15% less water next year, or have restrictions imposed on them. Despite deadlines, discussions have not resulted in agreements.

Bureau officials use the image of pouring tea from one cup to another to describe how water from Rocky Mountain snowmelt is captured in Lake Powell, then released downriver through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead. About 70% is allocated for irrigation, sustaining a $15 billion-a-year agricultural industry that supplies 90% of U.S. winter vegetables.

The two lakes, combined, were at 92% capacity in 1999, Bunk noted. Today, they are at 26%.

“Due to critically low current reservoir conditions, and the potential for worsening drought which threatens critical infrastructure and public health and safety … operational strategies must be revisited,” Bunk said.

This year’s meeting of water recipients begins Wednesday at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip. The event theme, “A New Century for the Colorado River Compact,” marks 100 years since a 1922 interstate agreement divvied water shares among interests in the seven states now home to 40 million people and millions of farmed acres.

Agricultural interests got the biggest share. Native American tribes weren’t included and were referenced in one sentence: “Nothing in this compact shall be construed as affecting the obligations of the United States of America to Indian tribes.”

It wasn’t until 1944 that a separate agreement promised a share of water to Mexico.

Today, tribes are at the table and a Mexico delegation is due to attend the conference. U.S. cities that receive river water include Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego.

Many call conservation crucial. Among conference topic titles are “Messaging in a More Water-Challenged world” and “The Next 100 Years Begins Now.”

“The ongoing drought is a stark reminder that water conservation is not just smart planning but an absolute necessity to save the life of the Colorado River,” Amelia Flores, chairwoman of Colorado River Indian Tribes, said ahead of the event. The tribal reservation in western Arizona includes more than 110 miles (177 kilometers) of Colorado River shoreline.

“Whether it’s fallowing fields, upgrading irrigation canals, or modernizing farming methods,” Flores said, “decisions made now will have lasting consequences.”

Throughout the river basin, warnings have increased and measures have tightened markedly in 2022.

In April, water administrators in Southern California imposed a one-day-a-week outdoor watering limit on more than 6 million people.

Last month, 30 agencies that supply water to homes and businesses throughout the region joined the Las Vegas area in restricting the planting of decorative lawns that no one walks on.

Adel Hagekhalil, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California general manager, warned this month in a statement that another dry winter could force officials to make voluntary measures mandatory.

The four states at the headwaters of the river — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — also recently announced they plan to ask Congress to let them use federal money through 2026 for a program dubbed “strategic conservation.” It would resurrect a 2015 to 2018 pilot program that paid farmers to fallow land to cut water use.

Camille Touton, bureau commissioner, tempered a warning during the water webinars about federal intervention — she called it “moving forward on the initiation of administrative actions” — with a vow to “find a collective solution to the challenges that we face today.”

Touton and two top Interior Department officials are scheduled to address the conference on Friday.

___

Associated Press journalists Brittany Peterson in Denver, Sam Metz in Salt Lake City and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Italian diplomatic property vandalized in Germany, Spain

MILAN (AP) — Italy’s premier said in a statement Saturday that Italian diplomatic property had been the target of vandalism in Germany and Spain. Premier Giorgia Meloni said that the car of diplomat Luigi Estero had been set ablaze in Berlin, while the Italian consulate in Barcelona had been vandalized. There were no reports of […]
1 day ago
Pope Francis speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Vatican, Tuesday, Jan. 24,...
Associated Press

Pope clarifies homosexuality and sin comments in note

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis has clarified his recent comments about homosexuality and sin, saying he was merely referring to official Catholic moral teaching that teaches that any sexual act outside of marriage is a sin. And in a note Friday, Francis recalled that even that black-and-white teaching is subject to circumstances that might eliminate […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

2 Indian fighter jets crash, killing pilot

NEW DELHI (AP) — Two Indian air force jets crashed in the central state of Madhya Pradesh on Saturday, killing one pilot, officials said. The Indian air force said on Twitter the aircraft were on routine operational training mission. One of the three pilots involved sustained fatal injuries, and an inquiry has been ordered to […]
1 day ago
Paul Mitemberezi, a market vendor who has been disabled since he was 3 because of polio, leaves his...
Associated Press

‘He’s close to us’: Wheelchair users in Africa await pope

GOMA, Congo (AP) — When Pope Francis arrives in Congo and South Sudan next week, thousands of people will take special note of a gesture more grounded than the sign of the cross. Watching from their wheelchairs, they will relate to the way he uses his. The pope, who began using a wheelchair last year, […]
1 day ago
FILE - Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop attends a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei...
Associated Press

Mali defends Russian ties and opposes options for UN force

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Mali’s foreign minister defended the military government’s cooperation with Russia on Friday and rejected three options proposed by the U.N. chief to reconfigure the U.N. peacekeeping force in the west African country where Al-Qaida and Islamic State extremist groups are driving insecurity. Abdoulaye Diop told the U.N. Security Council that security […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Friday’s Scores

BOYS PREP BASKETBALL= Annie Wright 78, Life Christian Academy 38 Auburn 83, Kentlake 34 Auburn Mountainview 67, Auburn Riverside 33 Bainbridge 60, Bremerton 33 Battle Ground 91, Prairie 53 Bellarmine Prep 50, Puyallup 42 Bellingham 72, Mount Baker 45 Black Hills 76, Centralia 37 Bonney Lake 67, Thomas Jefferson 60 Brewster 73, Oroville 21 Bush […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Colorado River water users convening amid crisis concerns