Water users along Colorado River face shortages by 2015
June 10, 2011
BOULDER – Deep spring snowpack in parts of the West has given states in the Colorado River basin some relief from drought, but water officials said Thursday there’s still work to do to keep faucets running in the future.
Before this year, there was a “serious possibility” that a water shortage would be declared next year for California, Arizona and Nevada, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor said. That has been deferred until at least 2015, he said.
Nevertheless Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which together can store up to 50 million acre-feet of water, are still not full, and there’s no guarantee reservoirs will be full by the next drought.
“There is a precarious balance between supply and demand, and it’s getting worse,” Connor said at a conference at the University of Colorado Law School.
Through years of tough talks, the basin states of Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico have reached some agreements on sharing water after years of tough talks.
Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell and Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said one of the next challenges for the states is further negotiations with Mexico over the Colorado River.
One key issue is not just the quantity of water Mexico is due but the quality, said Steve Fitten, chief council for the International Boundary Waters Commission.
About 6 million Mexicans benefit from the river system, and that’s expected to grow to 10 million by 2025, said Mario Lopez Perez, engineering and technical standards manager for the National Water Commission of Mexico.
Mexico wants to work within existing treaties to explore how the countries can cooperate on water projects, conservation and the environment, he said. He said Mexico is committed to sharing water, problems and solutions on the river.
In the U.S., the Colorado River system provides municipal water for more than 30 million people in the seven Colorado River basin states. It also irrigates nearly 4 million acres, and hydropower facilities along the river provide more than 4,200 megawatts of capacity.
That has left water managers to balance tourism, recreation, agricultural, municipal and environmental interests in sharing the river.
“Open dialogue, as painful as it can be, is the best approach for lasting solutions,” Connor said.
He slammed pending legislation in the U.S. House on water in California’s San Joaquin Valley, saying it was counter to a spirit of cooperation undertaken by Colorado River basin users.