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Text of the Colorado River interstate agreement proposed by the 7 Colorado River states in February, 2006; It was approved by the Southern Nevada Water Authority board in January 2007

US Seasonal Drought Outlook: National Weather Service

Colorado River water

Judge tentatively invalidates West water pact

A California judge on Thursday tentatively invalidated a landmark pact to curtail the state's overuse of water and allow other Western states to claim their fair share. The 2003 agreement ended of years of bickering over how to divide the Colorado River between California and six western states: Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.  More than 30 million acre-feet of water—enough to cover the state of Pennsylvania a foot deep—would move from farms to cities in Southern California over the 75-year life of the deal.  Superior Court Judge Roland Candee ruled in Sacramento that the state improperly agreed to pick up much of the cost of saving the shrinking Salton Sea in the southeastern California desert. Restoring the state's largest lake was a crucial piece of the agreement.  The state put no limit on costs, "even if they ultimately amounted to millions or billions of dollars," violating a constitutional limit on assuming debts, Candee wrote.  "The Court has no ability to sanction a way to contract around the Constitution," he wrote.  The judge will hear arguments next Thursday to decide whether to make the ruling final.  San Jose Mercury News_12/10/09

Colorado River District survey finds that voters treasure the Colorado River and want it protected
Voters in Western Coloradoy also recognize the river’s importance to the economy, according to a survey of 500 registered voters that was commissioned by the Colorado River District. The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies of Golden, Colo., tested public perceptions about the Colorado River and issues surrounding it. For survey purposes, the Colorado River includes the main stem Colorado, Gunnison, Yampa and White Rivers and all of the streams and rivers that flow into them in Western Colorado – the tributaries. When it comes to understanding the legal obligations on the Colorado River, results were mixed. Forty-eight percent know a certain amount of water has to flow past the state line to satisfy the Colorado River Compact of 1922. But 19 percent thought wrongly that Colorado could use as much of the river as desired and 32 percent did not have enough information to say one way or the other. When asked about threats to the river, 83 percent cited out-of-state water interests. Overall population growth was cited by 80 percent and 75 percent cited water users on the Front Range as principal threats to Western Colorado water. News Release_ 8/4/09

University of Colorado study warns of scarce water along the Colorado River

A new study projects that all reservoirs along the Colorado River — which provide water for 27 million people in seven states — could dry up by 2057 because of climate change and overuse. "In the short term, the risk is relatively low," said Balaji Rajagopalan, associate professor of civil environmental and architectural engineering at CU and lead author on the study, which was accepted for publication by the American Geophysical Union. Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Bureau of Reclamation participated in the study. Rajagopalan said the study was done in response to a 2008 University of California study that found a one-in-two chance that overuse and warming could deplete reservoirs much sooner — by 2021. A 10-year drought along the Colorado River, which runs 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, has created anxiety. Lawyers are looking into how down-river users such as Californians might assert water rights if reservoirs dried up. Denver Post_ 7/22/09

Level of Lake Mead becomes a trigger for Las Vegas pipeline project

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has established a trigger between its multibillion-dollar pipeline project and the shrinking water level at Lake Mead. If Lake Mead's elevation falls another 23 feet, the water authority board will be asked to give the official go-ahead to construct a pipeline to tap groundwater across eastern Nevada and bring it to Las Vegas. An unprecedented drought along the Colorado River has caused the surface of Lake Mead to drop to the lowest level since 1965. Between 1999 and 2008, the river has seen about 66 percent of its normal inflow, most of which comes from melting snow in the Rocky Mountains. Over that same period, lakes Mead and Powell, the two largest man-made reservoirs in the United States, lost about half their total volume. Las Vegas Review-Journal_ 6/1/09

After 21 years, newly-lined All-American Canal in California dedicated amid doubts

Twenty-one years after its first serious incarnation, a new 23-mile, lined segment of the All-American Canal is being celebrated – and lamented. But to pull off the Imperial Valley project, it took an urgent act of Congress, court rulings settling cross-border disputes, a seven-state agreement to share the Colorado River and at least $170 million of state taxpayer money. In addition to the state money, the San Diego County water authority spent $130 million for an extra 66,000 acre-feet of water annually, or enough to supply about 132,000 households a year. The deal for the water will last 110 years. But the project threatens to dry up valuable groundwater used by farmers and wildlife in Mexico. For decades, the seepage from the canal flowed south to irrigate fields and nourish wetlands. San Diego Union-Tribune_ 5/3/09

Colorado River water allotments not sustainable: Report

The Colorado River is a critical source of water for seven Western states, each of which gets an annual allotment according to a system that has sparked conflict and controversy for decades. But in an era of climate change, even greater difficulties loom. The scope of those potential problems is detailed in a study being published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Tim P. Barnett and David W. Pierce of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography report that under various forecasts of the effects of warming temperatures on runoff into the Colorado, scheduled future water deliveries to the seven states are not sustainable. New York Times_ 4/20/09

Abstract and link to pdf download

Energy vs. water in Rocky Mountain power struggle

A titanic battle between the West's two traditional power brokers -- Big Oil and Big Water -- has begun. At stake is one of the largest oil reserves in the world, a vast cache trapped beneath the Rocky Mountains containing an estimated 800 billion barrels -- about three times the reserves of Saudi Arabia. Extracting oil from rocky seams of underground shale is not only expensive, but also requires massive amounts of water, a precious resource crucial to continued development in the nation's fastest-growing region. That water-to-oil equation has inflamed officials in the upper Rockies, who are raising the alarm about the cumulative effect of energy projects on the region's water supplies, which ultimately feed Southern California reservoirs via the Colorado River. "There are estimates that oil shale could use all of the remaining water in upper Colorado River Basin," said Susan Daggett, a commissioner on the Denver Water Board. "That essentially pits oil shale against people's needs." Los Angeles Times_ 12/28/08

ProPublica and San Diego Union-Tribune Investigation: How the West's energy boom could threaten drinking water for 1 in 12 Americans

The Colorado River, the life vein of the Southwestern United States, is in trouble. The river's water is hoarded the moment it trickles out of the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado and begins its 1,450-mile journey to Mexico's border. It runs south through seven states and the Grand Canyon, delivering water to Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. Along the way, it powers homes for 3 million people, nourishes 15 percent of the nation's crops and provides drinking water to one in 12 Americans. Now a rush to develop domestic oil, gas and uranium deposits along the river and its tributaries threatens its future. The river is already so beleaguered by drought and climate change that one environmental study called it the nation's "most endangered" waterway. Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography warn the river's reservoirs could dry up in 13 years. ProPublica/San Diego Union-Tribune_ 12/21/08

Construction begins on $172.2 million Colorado River reservoir in California's Imperial Valley; water had been flowing to Mexico

The reservoir will mean more water for coastal Southern California, southern Nevada and central Arizona -- where water agencies have agreed to split the cost. But it will mean less water for Mexico, where farmers and cities are suffering from drought and a leaky infrastructure that has trouble delivering water to its customers. For decades, the United States has allowed Mexico to receive more water from the Colorado River than it was assured under a 1944 treaty. But with the region suffering a historic drought, the U.S. Interior Department took the lead in devising a project to capture excess water from the All-American Canal rather than allowing it to flow south of the border. The reservoir, scheduled to be completed in August 2010, is the second Imperial Valley project that will mean more water for the United States but less for Mexico. At a cost of nearly $250 million, a 23-mile stretch of the All-American Canal is being lined with concrete to prevent seepage. Seepage from the canal, and excess flows from the Colorado River, have helped replenish the Mexicali Valley aquifer. Studies by San Diego State and the Mexican government have predicted dire consequences for thousands of Mexican farmers because of the lining and reservoir projects. Last year, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and his Mexican counterpart agreed on a binational study group to find ways to stretch the Colorado River supplies for both countries. Los Angeles Times_ 10/22/08 (logon required)

In Colorado, McCain promises 'never, ever' to take more Colorado River water

Sen. John McCain visited the Democratic stronghold of Pueblo, Colorado Friday, making indirect appeals to Latinos and promising he would "never, ever" try to take more of Colorado's water. McCain made a splash with the crowd when he talked about one of the most controversial topics in Colorado. "As a citizen of the great state of Arizona," McCain said, "I want to say on behalf of all my fellow citizens: Thank you for the water." In August, McCain said in an interview with The Pueblo Chieftain that the Colorado River water compact should be "renegotiated," a comment that brought immediate attacks from the state's top Democrats and even a terse response from Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Bob Schaffer. McCain later said he did not support a renegotiation of the water compact. He elicited applause when he emphatically told the audience in Pueblo, "I will never, ever see the renegotiation of the Colorado River compact." Denver Post_ 10/3/08

McCain stirs up western water spat
Arizona Sen. John McCain said he was open to looking at changes to the 86-year-old Colorado River law that governs use of the Colorado River as long as regional governors lead the way. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R) said , "It can't be Washington that says the time is right to open the compact." "It's got to be we in the region saying, 'We're having trouble with this or that and, therefore, it's time to re-evaluate the mechanics of the compact." All seven compact states - Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California - signed an interim agreement in December to share the pain of Colorado River water shortages, and agreed to ensure that the levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead are equal.  But more than 20 scientific studies conducted during the past four years show the Colorado is unlikely anytime soon to be at the high level it was in 1922, when the compact was signed. The states agree the river is overallocated. Yet they are working to ensure they keep all their rights granted under the compact while also saying they don't want to renegotiate it.  Salt Lake Tribune_8/21/08

Lake Powell water rises to highest level in six years

Hydrologists say the results of the wettest winter in a decade could be a sign the Colorado River is recovering from one of the worst dry spells ever. The runoff boosted water storage for Arizona and other states that rely on the Colorado River while improving conditions for boaters and anglers, many of whom had stayed away from the drought-stricken lake since its decline. Drought conditions struck Lake Powell near the end of 1999. By 2005, the reservoir shrank to one-third of capacity, the lowest point since it began to fill in 1963. The lake is now 63% full, still 67 feet below the full mark. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials expect Lake Mead to reach its target level this fall. AP/USA Today_ 8/5/08

July, 2008

Feds pushing crackdown on wells tapping into Colorado River water

Hundreds of people who illegally pump water from wells along the lower Colorado River could face a tough choice soon: Pay to acquire rights to the water or turn the spigot off. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the river in Arizona, Nevada and California, has proposed new rules that target the well owners, who drain as much as 5 billion gallons of water a year from the Colorado. Most of the well owners are private citizens who have drilled their wells too close to the river. Instead of pumping groundwater, to which landowners have a right, they are drawing water from the river's subsurface flow. Well owners must get approval to siphon water from the river's surface or subsurface. The federal crackdown comes at a time when the bureau and the seven Colorado River states are trying to stretch water supplies to meet growing demand and avert drought-related shortages. Arizona Republic_ 7/29/08 (logon required)

Water standoff between Utah and Nevada goes to the heart of western U.S. water laws

Las Vegas, whose leaders say their sprawling city must have the water under Utah's Snake Valley - or wither and die - are coming for it, making plans for a 285-mile pipeline to tap the aquifer that stretches from Salt Lake City to Death Valley and take the water south. At the same time, Utah wants to build a 158-mile pipeline on Lake Powell to suck up Colorado River water and send it northward to growing desert communities before it gets anywhere near Glitter Gulch. Eventually, the outcome of this tale of two pipelines, begun with an agreement struck 86 years ago to share the Colorado and now groaning under rapid population growth and climate distress, could shake the foundations of Western water law. Salt Lake Tribune_ 7/5/08

In the Colorado River Delta, waters--and prospects--are drying up

As U.S. scientists warn of a semi-permanent drought along the taxed river by midcentury, Mexico today offers a glimpse of what dry times can be like. Rationing is in effect in some areas. Farmers have abandoned crops they can no longer irrigate. Experts fear that the desert will reclaim some of the region's most fertile land. Three million people in northern Mexico depend on a meager allotment of Colorado River water that was not enough when it was granted by treaty in 1944, and is far from enough now. Traversing 1,440 miles and providing water for seven of the most arid U.S. states, the Colorado River arrives at its mouth as an intermittent stream laden with sewage, fertilizer, pesticides and salts leached from farmland. Dams, drought, climate change, urban growth, industrial agriculture and politics on both sides of the border are to blame, and none of those adverse conditions will reverse any time soon. Reservoirs have been drawn down to historically low levels, and some scientists predict that under the influence of climate change, the river's annual flow could drop by 50% over the next 40 years. Despite heavy snowfall in the central Rocky Mountains this year, river managers in the U.S. continue to advise the states that depend on the Colorado River to prepare for water shortages within five years. Measures to shore up U.S. reserves, meanwhile, are likely to make water even more scarce in Mexico. Los Angeles Times_ 5/25/08 (logon required)

Colorado River Basin in good shape--for this year

Spring runoff will fill all the upper basin reservoirs in the next few months, water experts said at the annual state of the river meeting, held last week in Frisco, Co. Trying to address West Slope concerns about increased diversions to the Front Range, Denver Water’s Melissa Elliott described the utility’s aggressive conservation efforts, aimed at cutting total water use in the service area by 22 percent by 2016. Some audience members asked about overall state growth, and limits to Denver Water’s service area. Other citizens wanted to know how Colorado river water will be split between the upstream mountain states and headwaters, and southwestern desert, where the Colorado’s waters inevitably flow. All good questions, the panelists replied. Aspen Times_ 5/12/08

Record snowpack soon will be heading downriver

The Roaring Fork River, as measured at its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, has been steadily rising in the past week and expectations of a big spring runoff have been rising along with it. The river should keep right on rising as the snowpack in the Roaring Fork River basin is as high as it has been in 40 years, according to the National Resources Conservation Service. The Bureau of Reclamation is also preparing for high water. Last week, the agency increased the amount of water coming out of Ruedi Reservoir. “The increase in releases is in preparation for the upcoming spring runoff,” said Kara Lamb, a public information officer with the Bureau of Reclamation. “The Fryingpan River basin is showing an impressive snowpack this year and we are making sure we have room in Ruedi Reservoir to capture the melting snow." Aspen Daily News_ 4/28/08

Colorado River to drop to 500-year low as world warms

The Colorado River may shrink in this century to its lowest level in at least 500 years because of global warming, threatening water supplies to California and six other states, researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey said. A ``modest'' 0.86 degree Celsius (1.5 degree Fahrenheit) increase in the 21st century could trim the average flow of the river -- the primary water supply for residents in much of the U.S. Southwest -- to the low end of a range marked between 1490 and 1998, USGS scientist Gregory McCabe said yesterday. The Earth is likely to warm by more than twice that amount in the period, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said last month. McCabe will brief Congress on the findings in June, when legislators expect to debate plans for the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases to begin capping its emissions. Bloomberg_ 4/17/08

Colorado Senator warns state needs to increase storage to avoid water war

Water wars in the Southeast U.S. should serve as a warning to Colorado to store more water, Sen. Wayne Alllard, R-Colo., told Western Slope leaders on Saturday. To avert fights over the state’s water, Colorado must immediately figure out how to store the 1.2 million acre-feet the state has been allotted under the compact that divvies up the Colorado River and its tributaries, Allard told Club 20, the Western Slope lobbying and promotional organization. In the worst case, Congress would draft new laws to make water decisions, or the federal government would mediate water fights among the states, Allard said. Grand Junction Sentinel_ 4/5/08

Vegas mayor heats up water rhetoric;

Water pros seek cooperation

Despite what the mayor of Las Vegas says, no one will raid Coachella and Imperial valley farmers' water to maintain big-city needs.  So said leaders of two of the largest providers of urban water in the western United States on Thursday.  Instead, the agencies are focusing on cooperative efforts, more conservation and finding new water sources.  They hope that will be enough in the face of challenges such as continuing drought, court-ordered supply cuts to protect endangered fish and population growth.  "There is no plot in Nevada to shut down California agriculture," said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which delivers water to 2 million customers in and around Las Vegas.  Tensions in the agriculture-vs.-urban water debate were stirred last week when Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman indicated valley farmers would face a water crisis before Sin City ever would.  "No one is going to allow us to dry up," Goodman said at a Feb. 14 news conference following a study indicating that Lake Mead, where Las Vegas gets about 90 percent of its water, could dry up by 2021.  "The Imperial Valley farmers will have their fields go fallow before our spigots run dry," Goodman said.  That raised the ire of valley farmers and water officials.  "Those are fighting words," said Nicole Rothfleisch, executive director of the Imperial County Farm Bureau.  The Desert Sun_2/21/08

 

Mussel spread threatens Hoover Dam pipes

Invasive quagga mussels are adapting well to life in the desert, especially in Lake Havasu, where scientists have determined their reproduction rate is three times faster than when the pesky mollusks infested the Great Lakes years ago. Leonard Willett, the Bureau of Reclamation’s quagga mussel coordinator for the lower Colorado River dams, said the effort to deal with quaggas, which were discovered last year first in Lake Mead and later downstream of Hoover Dam, still is in the monitoring phase, the first part of what he called the “reactive approach." “Reactive approach means you’re going to live with the mussels. You’re going to control them, but you’re going to live with them,” he said in a recent presentation to the Lake Mead Water Quality Forum. He projected that as the infestation sets in and begins to clog hydroelectric power cooling pipes and other hardware in Hoover Dam’s operations, the maintenance-and-control bill could reach $1 million a year, especially if pipes get plugged with quagga colonies. That could cause turbines to overheat and shut down until cooling pipes can be reamed of the invasive species. "This is an evil critter, not good,” Willett said. Las Vegas Review-Journal_ 2/18/08

Lake Mead could be within a few years of going dry, study finds

Lake Mead, the vast reservoir for the Colorado River water that sustains the fast-growing cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas, could lose water faster than previously thought and run dry within 13 years, according to a new study by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The lake, located in Nevada and Arizona, has a 50 percent chance of becoming unusable by 2021, the scientists say, if the demand for water remains unchanged and if human-induced climate change follows climate scientists’ moderate forecasts, resulting in a reduction in average river flows. Demand for Colorado River water already slightly exceeds the average annual supply when high levels of evaporation are taken into account, the researchers, Tim P. Barnett and David W. Pierce, point out. Despite an abundant snowfall in Colorado this year, scientists project that snowpacks and their runoffs will continue to dwindle. If they do, the system for delivering water across the Southwest would become increasingly unstable. New York Times _ 2/13/08 (logon required)

Interior Secretary hails today's Colorado River deal as model for country
The seven states in the Colorado River Basin have a deal.   The hard-won agreement to manage Colorado River flows during drought became official this morning when Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne signed the final record of a decision on a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation environmental study.  The deal, negotiated over the past three years, gives the seven basin states - Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico in the upper basin and California, Nevada and Arizona in the lower basin - new tools to manage the river and its water rights without re-opening the 85-year-old Colorado Compact.   Such a move, it was feared, could lead to a potentially ruinous legal battle between the basin states.   Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said the environmental impact study was made final in October or November. But it wasn't until early this morning that states were satisfied with the record of decision that Kempthorne later signed.   "You have navigated the shoals of history ... we've provided a course for the rest of the country that is facing similar challenges," Kempthorne told water officials from the seven states gathered here for the annual Colorado River Water Users conference.  "If the seven states on the Colorado River can get together and work out a deal, anyone can," he added.  The document will serve as a guideline for managing water sharing between the two basins, with the lower basin having more people and older rights.  Perhaps most crucially, the agreement sets rules for how to handle water shortages so that Lake Powell and Lake Mead will rise and fall in tandem. It also establishes ways to divide surpluses in ample water years.  Kempthorne said the foundation of the deal is the shared sacrifice between the two basins. Salt Lake Tribune_12/13/07

Seven western U.S. states agree on Colorado River drought plan

Water users from the seven Colorado River states are expected to ratify a regional drought plan this week in Las Vegas, ending years of bickering over how to balance uncertain resources with growing demand. The heart of the plan is the heart of the river system, its two largest reservoirs along Arizona's northern borders. Lake Powell and Lake Mead hold not only the water needed to survive long dry periods but also the key to a landmark deal meant to give the states a chance to find longer-lasting solutions. Drought has drained the two reservoirs to below half capacity, increasing the threat of water shortages upstream and in Arizona, along with the loss of cheap hydropower and damage to riparian habitat and recreation sites. With that much at risk, some of the states were prepared to fight costly legal battles. The drought plan can't keep the lakes from shrinking further if dry conditions persist and could trigger the first shortage as early as 2010. But by focusing on the reservoirs and the way they help manage the river's limited supply, the states hope to protect users from the worst effects of drought. The plan guides management of the river through 2026 using reservoir levels to trigger rationing and a series of experimental conservation programs. Environmental groups say the plan fails to protect the river itself, but the states insist they produced what they could within their limits. The seven river states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Arizona Republic_ 12/9/07 (logon required)

Central Arizona Project to draw record 1.7 million acre feet of water from Colorado River in 2007
The Central Arizona Project will draw a record 1.74 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River in 2007, an amount that includes the largest deposit ever in the state's underground water bank. CAP officials say drought and higher demand will reduce the amount of water available for the bank in 2008. Despite dry conditions, CAP says its supplies should remain consistent through at least 2011. Arizona Republic_ 11/26/07 (logon required)

Bureau of Reclamation plan manages Colorado River in drought: 'everyone shares the pain'

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Friday released a final environmental impact study that could be a way to avoid renegotiating an 85-year-old agreement based on inflated notions of how much water really is in the river. Or, according to river advocates, the plan that will govern use and allocation through 2026 could be a way to ensure none of the seven Western states that share the river ever has enough water. The study's conclusions drew from a consensus decision by the seven Western states that depend on the Colorado River on what to do during low-water years, officials said. "This is an arrangement for operating the river where everyone shares the pain when you're going through a drought time," said Tom Ryan, a Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist in Salt Lake City. The Bureau of Reclamation began the environmental study in 1999. Since then, the river basin has experienced the worst drought in 100 years of recorded history, and its two largest reservoirs - Lake Powell and Lake Mead - have gone from being nearly full to just over half-full. The report, expected to be final in December, plans how the upper basin states - Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico - will respond to demand from California, Arizona and Nevada, the lower basin states, which have more people and older water rights. Salt Lake Tribune_ 11/2/07

download the final environmental impact study

New Mexico water users challenge Bureau of Reclamation study on water for Navajo-Gallup pipeline

Two San Juan River water user groups have filed a motion in the 11th Judicial District Court questioning a recent determination by the Bureau of Reclamation that enough water exists in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River to support the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Albuquerque attorney Victor Marshall, representing the San Juan Agricultural Water Users Association and the Hammond Conservancy District, filed a motion Oct. 1 for limited discovery concerning BOR’s 2007 hydrologic determination, saying it appears to be erroneous and the errors need to be identified and corrected before the pipeline settlement is implemented. The 1962 Navajo Indian Irrigation Project Act requires the Secretary of the Interior conduct a water study, or “hydrologic determination,” to ensure that enough water is likely to be available for use in the state of New Mexico before new contracts for storage permits in Navajo Reservoir are issued. The reservoir would supply the Navajo-Gallup pipeline. When the pipeline was proposed by the New Mexico State Engineer, Marshall said, it was recognized by knowledgeable parties along the Colorado River that the proposed settlement was problematic due to lack of water. Independent_ 10/10/07

Arizona opposes changes in Colorado River plan

Arizona officials have appealed to the federal government to settle the dispute over proposed changes to a Colorado River drought plan or delay approval of it. In a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and the six other states that take water from the Colorado River - including Colorado - Arizona officials said attempts to rewrite an agreement reached earlier this year put Arizona's share of the river at an unacceptable risk. At issue is whether a new system of managing reservoirs on the river would threaten the portion of Arizona's allotment that serves Phoenix and Tucson. The request for federal mediation could upset a tenuous peace among the seven states, which negotiated for more than two years over how to manage the river in times of drought. The states' version was undergoing a final review, and Kempthorne was expected to approve it in December. The government wanted the plan in place to avoid protracted legal battles if drought or shifting climate continued to shrink the river's flow. AP/Denver Post_ 10/5/07

A trickle of water might save Colorado River estuary

About 90% of the Colorado River Delta's wetlands and natural habitat dried up over the last half century, as water from the Colorado was captured in reservoirs and diverted to farms and cities from Las Vegas to Mexicali. For more than a decade, conservation groups in the U.S. and Mexico have tried unsuccessfully to restore North America's largest desert estuary. Now the Sonoran Institute is warning that unless restoration is undertaken before a prolonged dry spell, which many scientists are predicting, it could be too late. In its forthcoming analysis of the delta, the nonprofit Arizona institute paints a dire picture of the once-vibrant ecosystem. But it also puts forth a proposal for replenishing much of the area by replacing a tiny fraction of the river water that once flowed through the delta, saying it would be enough to restore much of the area's natural wealth. Under the institute's plan, the delta would get about three-tenths of a percent of the river's historic annual flow, making it one of the more modest claims on a river that serves 30 million people. But even that amount could be a hard sell. Later this year, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is expected to announce the first-ever guidelines for managing reduced water deliveries from the Colorado in the event of shortages. Officials say a shortage will be declared when the water level at Lake Mead drops 36 feet below its current level, a change that is expected within the next few years. Los Angeles Times_ 9/17/07

Navajo Nation leaders urge state and federal action on reservation water crisis

Nearly 80,000 people on the country's largest Indian reservation have to haul their own water. That's more than 30 percent. Those who lack running water live far from a water pipeline, and their communities barely have enough water to sustain what few lines exist. The tribe, located in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, is working to secure $2 billion from the federal government for pipelines tapping the San Juan and Colorado rivers. But Navajo officials say they have been met with opposition from the Bush administration and other Colorado River states. Tribal leaders are also preparing for what it anticipates will be a drawn-out process to settle claims with Arizona so it can secure federal funding for delivery projects and years of studies and construction. AP/Arizona Daily Sun_ 8/27/07

Quaggas, nonnative mussels, threaten Southwestern U.S. water

An invasive mussel that made its way west of the Rocky Mountains seven months ago is spreading rapidly, just the scenario most feared by officials running water systems supplying millions of people across the Southwest. The thumb-sized quagga mussels, which can clog pipes and gum up waterworks, have already been discovered in lakes Mead, Havasu and Mojave on the Colorado River and in two major aqueducts that supply water to Southern California and Arizona. Officials announced this month that they had also found tiny quagga larvae in Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border, although no adults have yet been found. Quagga mussels, close cousins of the better known zebra mussels, are almost impossible to totally exterminate. The small clam-like creatures damage local aquatic life and can cause millions of dollars in damage to water facilities. The big fear is that the mussels will infiltrate canals and pipelines feeding the Southwest's vast system of reservoirs and water treatment plants, sending maintenance costs skyrocketing. They've been detected in the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct, which supplies water to 18 million people, said Bob Muir, a spokesman with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. A few mussels have also been discovered in the Central Arizona Project aqueduct, which draws water from Lake Havasu and delivers it as far south as Tucson. The Salt River Project, which provides water and power to the Phoenix metropolitan area, plans to scrape them away, use pesticides and try special paint coatings that repel the mussels. Though none have been spotted in the project's reservoirs, their spread is practically inevitable, said Brian Moorhead, an environmental scientist for the public agency. Prevailing wisdom is that ships emptying ballast water are responsible for introducing quagga mussels to the Great Lakes in the 1980s, where they've caused at least $1 billion in damage. To come out West, they likely hitched rides inside ballast tanks or on the bottom of boats that weren't washed carefully. AP/MSNBC_ 8/20/07

Colorado River District announces agreement to maintain flows
Reservoir operators and water users on the Colorado River have arranged to keep river flows at sufficient levels through the rest of the summer to protect endangered fish in the Grand Valley and sustain the rafting industry in Colorado's Grand, Eagle and Garfield counties. This cooperative effort by East Slope and West Slope interests is a directed regional solution that puts water in the river that ordinarily would be called downstream by the now-damaged Shoshone Hydroelectric Plant in Glenwood Canyon. The agreement was reached by the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the Grand Valley Irrigation Company, the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, the Palisade Irrigation District, and the Mesa County Irrigation District, as well as by Denver Water, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Colorado Division of Water Resources and the Colorado River District. Water will be provided from Green Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir (Reclamation and Northern Water), Wolford Mountain Reservoir (Colorado River District), and Williams Fork Reservoir (Denver Water). Water will be released at the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation. News Release_ 8/8/07

Thirsty Las Vegas seeks more rural Nevada water

Roderick McKenzie and other central Nevada farmers fear booming Las Vegas is going to suck their farmland dry. They are fighting a plan to pump billions of gallons of water south across the desert for use in the fast-growing Las Vegas area, saying it would eat up groundwater supplies and spell the end for ranchers and farmers in rural valleys. The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to draw more than 11.3 billion gallons of groundwater a year from the Delamar, Dry Lake and Cave valleys, all in central Lincoln County and along the route of a proposed water pipeline that will stretch 250 miles across the state like a giant straw. That amount of water, expanded through reuse and other means, could supply more than 100,000 homes in the fast-growing Las Vegas area, authorities say. But McKenzie, who heads Lund Irrigation & Water Co., said water under nearby Cave Valley can be linked to subsurface water in the Lund area and a big drawdown in one area could hurt the other. The state's share of the Colorado River cannot sustain continued growth around Las Vegas, home to about three of every four Nevada residents. Drought has placed a greater strain on the river's supply. After initially opposing it, Lincoln County has agreed to go along with the water authority plan, which is part of a $2 billion water pipeline project to tap into water around Nevada. The agreement states which groundwater basins in the county can be developed. A prehearing conference has been set for Aug. 28 by the state engineer and the water authority has asked for Jan. 14-18 hearings. Opponents include the federal Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ranchers and other landowners who oppose the plan are getting support from groups such as the Western Environmental Law Center, Great Basin Water Network and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, among others. The water authority's eventual goal is to tap into enough water in rural Nevada to serve more than 230,000 homes, besides about 400,000 households already getting the agency's water in the Las Vegas area, one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. The agency hopes to begin delivering the rural groundwater to Las Vegas by 2015. AP/Yahoo!_ 7/23/07


New member named to Nevada's Colorado River Commission

Gov. Jim Gibbons decided Tuesday against reappointing Richard Bunker to Nevada’s Colorado River Commission, but named Bunker as a special negotiator to deal with Utah on water issues. Bunker, who had chaired the commission, was replaced by Las Vegas lawyer George Ogilvie III. The chairmanship went to Jacob Bingham, who had been serving as the commission’s vice chairman. The Colorado River Commission manages Nevada’s water and hydroelectric power resources from the Colorado River. Six other states and the federal government share in the management of the river basin. Nevada and Utah are involved in negotiations on an agreement for water that either state can divert from a shared basin. The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to pump water from Snake Valley, on the Nevada-Utah border, to booming Las Vegas and that plan depends upon the agreement. AP/Ag News_ 7/22/07

Colorado River District Board concerned by Aaron Million's Flaming Gorge Pumpback proposal

The Colorado River District Board of Directors is seeking a delay in federal review of entrepreneur Aaron Million’s proposed Flaming Gorge pumpback project, at least until Colorado can determine first how much water the state can develop under the Colorado River Compacts of 1922 and 1948, and what demands exist for that water. In a unanimous vote on July 18, 2007, at its quarterly meeting, the Board said the state also must better define how compact water curtailment would work during a shortage before Million’s project should move forward. Million is proposing that a private enterprise he leads could build a pipeline from Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Utah-Wyoming border to supply water to Colorado’s Front Range. Flaming Gorge Reservoir is on the Green River outside of Colorado, but the water would be counted against Colorado’s entitlements under the Colorado River Compacts. The compacts determine how much Colorado River system water each state can use. Million would obtain the water from Flaming Gorge through a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation. The Colorado River District Board is asking the federal agency to halt processing of the contract, including a National Environmental Policy Act study, until Colorado can answer the essential questions about water supply, water demands and how a curtailment would work. News Release_ 7/18/07

Lining canal crossed by many illegal immigrants in California's Imperial Valley draws fire over potential for more drownings

The 82-mile canal that carries water west from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley has claimed the lives of more than 500 people since 1942, including almost 180 in the last 10 years. It's about to get more treacherous. About 23 miles of the canal are being lined with concrete to conserve water by preventing it from seeping into the ground. When the lining is complete, water will flow faster and the canal sides will be steeper, slicker and harder to scale. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began work in June. The original 1994 plan for the lining project called for "large mammal escape ridges," or steps, to make it easier for both humans and animals to get out of the water. But the Bureau of Reclamation no longer intends to include escape ridges, saying they cause structural instability and leakage. Critics of the lining say it is illegal to drop the safety provisions. And they say there are reasons, not stated in the official record, why the escape ridges aren't being included. The canal, which is operated by the Imperial Irrigation District, runs parallel to the Mexican border — less than a mile from it in places — and is a long barrier to people trying to make their way north. The San Diego County Water Authority and California Department of Water Resources are sharing the $290-million cost of the lining, and San Diego will receive most of the water that is conserved. Los Angeles Times_ 7/15/07 (logon required)

Ukrainian mussel shuts down Colorado River Aqueduct for a second time

An invasive, rapidly multiplying Ukrainian mussel could cost water agencies and ratepayers billions in fouled waterways and pipelines and has prompted the shutdown of the Colorado River Aqueduct for a second time, Southern California's main water supplier said Friday. Officials from the Metropolitan Water District said Friday that the 10-day shutdown was expected to start July 20 and would not affect any Southern California water deliveries, or diminish supplies. Spokesman Bob Muir said the invasive quagga mussel that first forced a shutdown of the aqueduct in January after it was discovered had spread further and multiplied faster than hoped. The mussel has been an expensive problem in the Great Lakes for years, costing billions in cleanup. Metropolitan delivers water to nearly 18 million Southern Californians in six counties, including San Diego County. Muir said that when the agency drained the 242-mile aqueduct in January, workers found mussels and microscopic larvae in the first 20 miles of the canal and in densities of about two to 10 per square meter. He said divers and workers had now found the mussel halfway down the aqueduct, and in densities up to 500 per square meter. "We understand the chance of eradicating them is relatively low," Muir said. "We're trying to control their spread." State fish and game officials discovered the mussels ---- which are similar to the invasive zebra mussel ---- in Lake Mead, one of the main reservoirs along the Colorado River, in January. Scientists believe the mussel, which is often smaller than a quarter but can grow to slightly larger than a silver dollar, was brought to the United States in the 1980s in the ballast water of transoceanic ships. North County Times_ 7/13/07

Bureau of Reclamation to keep full operations of Colorado-Big Thompson Project

On June 11, 2007, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that it would not transfer water scheduling and operations and maintenance (O&M) responsibilities for the power components of the Colorado-Big Thompson (C-BT) Project to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Northern Water), a proposal that Reclamation and Northern Water had been negotiating. In a letter to Northern Water, Fred R. Ore, Area Manager of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office, noted that Reclamation’s decision reflects, in part, the fact the C-BT serves both West Slope and East Slope beneficiaries with water and is governed by Congressional legislation and the subsequent Blue River water decrees. He said this gives the project a “uniqueness” that defines legal requirements for the contemplated transfer. “From the inception of these discussions, both Reclamation and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District have been clear that multiple beneficiaries, competition over a limited resource, and the unique nature of the project legislation, cause the C-BT to present different challenges than in other O&M transfers,” Ore wrote. The decision is an important development for West Slope water users. The Colorado River District and other West Slope water interests had voiced two concerns on the contemplated transfer: (1) that Green Mountain Reservoir O&M, and (2) that overall water supply scheduling, must remain with Reclamation as the impartial third-party operator, as guaranteed in the authorizing federal legislation. Reclamation decided early on in the process that the O&M transfer would not include Green Mountain Reservoir. Authorized by Congress in 1937, the C-BT is owned by the United States. It provides water from the Colorado River headwaters in Grand County on the West Slope as a supplemental water supply to Northeastern Colorado. Colorado River District news release_ 6/13/07

Colorado River water at risk from Chromium VI

Deep below ground near the Colorado River between Lake Mead and Lake Havasu flows "The Plume." The Plume is a vast cloud of ground water contaminated with Chromium VI, an industrial chemical made famous by the film "Erin Brockovich." The Plume may now have not only reached the edge of the Colorado River but may be lurking beneath it. At the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. plant motorized pumps work 24/7 to reverse the natural pull of ground water toward the river in dry season. It's an effort to pull The Plume away from the river and back toward its lair in Bat Cave Wash. Nobody wants The Plume in the river. Fifty miles downstream from The Plume are intakes for the Colorado River Aqueduct and Central Arizona Project, the water canals supplying 22 million people in Southern California and Arizona. Earlier this year, two slant wells were driven 200 and 300 feet deep from the California shore to beneath the center of the river to test for contamination. So far, none has been found. Las Vegas Sun_ 5/27/07

San Diego County Water Authority and Imperial Irrigation District reach $50 million settlement

The settlement is intended to ease harm to farm suppliers, farm workers and others during efforts to protect the Salton Sea. The settlement is part of a larger, 2003 agreement in which water conservation measures in California's Imperial Valley are used to provide water to San Diego County. Overall, the 2003 agreement reduces California's use of Colorado River water. News Release_ 5/8/07

Seven Colorado River states submit plan for sharing water in drought

Nevada and six other Colorado River states filed a plan with the Interior Department on Monday aimed at divvying up scarce water resources during drought. Officials said the long-debated pact represented the most comprehensive guidelines in the history of the river, and said it would protect 30 million people who depend on the river for drinking water. The plan was submitted to the Bureau of Reclamation at the close of a comment period on an environmental study of Colorado River operations. It is due for review by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Under existing rules commonly referred to as the “law of the river,” and dating to the 1920s, the four upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are obligated to let 8.23 million acre feet of water per year flow to three lower basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada. Under the proposed plan, the upper basin could release less water downstream if drought continues and less-than-average snowpack accumulates on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The proposal includes a water shortage agreement between Nevada and Arizona, and allows water for agriculture in Southern California to be “banked” in Lake Mead for future use if farm lands are allowed to go fallow. It also would let the Southern Nevada Water Authority tap water holdings in the Coyote Spring area of Nevada and exercise its rights to draw water from the Virgin and Muddy rivers. The proposal contains a promise from the authority to help finance construction of a reservoir in Southern California’s Imperial Valley, near the Mexico border. The reservoir would capture irrigation water that would otherwise flow past Southern California farms during rainy weather. AP/Glenwood Springs Post Independent_ 4/30/07

More destructive mussels found in Colorado River aqueduct

Crews inspecting the 242-mile aqueduct that brings Colorado River water to millions of Southern Californians have found almost 800 quagga mussels since March 10 in the largest discovery so far of the tiny but destructive mollusks in the West, officials said. In the Great Lakes, the invasive mussels from Ukraine have created a billion-dollar problem by clogging water pipelines and altering ecosystems. But officials here were buoyed by the fact the rapidly reproducing mussels were sparsely distributed downstream of Copper Basin, a reservoir along the aqueduct in eastern San Bernardino County, according to a letter dated Friday from Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of Metropolitan Water District, which owns the aqueduct. The mussels were first discovered in the West at Lake Mead National Recreation Area in early January. Within weeks, a few mussels were found farther downstream in the Colorado River and in the aqueduct. Riverside Press-Enterprise_ 3/19/07

Las Vegas looks north to slake its thirst

Las Vegas' determined water czar, Pat Mulroy, is laying ambitious plans to pump rural Nevada groundwater to her booming city of dancing casino fountains and new housing tracts. One branch of the $2-billion-plus pipeline project would reach 300 miles north into the high desert valley straddling the Utah border. Battles over water in the West are always about something more. At their most elemental, they are about survival. Last year, not long before the Nevada state engineer held hearings on part of the groundwater proposal, Mulroy warned that if he didn't approve the pumping, growth in the Las Vegas Valley would grind to a halt within a decade. Los Angeles Times_ 3/7/07 (logon required)

Water-supply cuts would hit Ariz. first
California would be spared unless shortages worsen
"We have a good position in the river."

Drought in the Colorado River basin could soon force a cut in water deliveries, but Southern California is unlikely to be affected, according to a federal report released Wednesday.  The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation document examines the effects of four proposals for handling shortages on the river, which is suffering from the worst drought in a century and one of the most severe in 500 years. "There is a chance in three years we would have a shortage. It's not a certainty," said Terry Fulp, a manager in the reclamation bureau's lower Colorado region.  Under the complex set of laws and water rights that govern the Colorado River, Arizona agriculture would be the first to face a cut in deliveries to the lower basin. Cities in that state would be less affected, although the river communities of Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City could lose roughly a quarter of their supplies.  If the drought deepened, other cities would also be affected, said Thomas Carr, assistant director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.  Las Vegas, too, could lose some of its allocation, but the reclamation report concludes that overall, municipalities will be able to cope with the cutbacks with little impact on their economies by implementing their own drought plans. Carr said Arizona would provide the river towns with other supplies to counter their Colorado losses, although they would eventually have to repay the state water bank.  In California, most of the state's large river share is used by Imperial Valley agriculture, whose senior rights largely insulate it from cutbacks. The state's junior user is the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the region's major urban supplier, but it would require a large shortage to trigger cuts to the agency. "We have a good position in the river," said Metropolitan assistant general manager Roger Patterson.   Los Angeles Times_3/1/07  logon required

Fiercer water wars seen for West
Warming report predicts cost hikes

Global warming likely will reduce Colorado River flows in the coming decades, increasing competition for the West's lifeblood liquid, a federal panel said Wednesday.  Reduced Colorado River flows also would contribute to more severe, frequent and longer Western droughts, the National Research Council panel concluded in a six-chapter report, Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability.  The Colorado River Basin covers portions of seven Western states. The river has an average annual flow of 15 million acre- feet and supports tens of millions of Americans.  As the population boom continues, Western water wars will grow fiercer, water costs will rise and more agricultural water will be diverted to urban use, the report notes. Now, about 80 percent of Western water is used for crop production.  But "the availability of agricultural water is finite," and all signs point to a future "in which the potential for conflict among existing and prospective new users will prove endemic," the report says.  Water conservation and technological fixes such as new dams, cloud seeding, desalination plants and underground water storage may help buy some time, but "any gains in water supply will be eventually absorbed by the growing population," according to the report.  The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  Rocky Mountain News_2/22/07

 

Colorado River flow below average; January ends with less than desired snow

What looked like a normal year on the Colorado River took "a hard right turn" in January, as a sudden dry spell took hold in the mountains of eastern Utah and western Colorado, a federal water supply forecaster said Friday. On Jan. 1, the forecast called for the river to receive about 91 percent of its average flow. Now the forecast calls for 74 percent. The Las Vegas Valley gets about 90 percent of its drinking water from the Colorado. Seven years of record drought have left the river's two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, at about 57 percent of their combined capacity. Several straight years of above-average snowfall and water runoff in the Rockies are needed to refill the reservoirs. During the past eight years, the Colorado River has received just 55 percent of its average flow of water. Tom Pagano, water supply forecaster for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Water and Climate Center in Portland, Ore., said it's not too late for this year's snowpack totals to rebound, but the situation is bad enough in parts of Utah that forecasters now rank the chances of getting back to normal as "slim and none." Las Vegas Review-Journal_ 2/3/07

Arizona panel endorses multi-state plan for saving unused Colorado River water

An agreement that Arizona's top water official said would “allow us to have peace and harmony” along the Colorado River got a stamp of approval from a House committee on Thursday.  The proposed agreement would allow Arizona, California and Nevada to hold onto water they intentionally do not use, said Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.  “It's an agreement that allows each division state to use its own intentionally created surplus water,” Guenther told the House committee on water and agriculture.  An example of intentionally created surplus water is the water saved by letting farmland lie unused.  The agreement would allow Arizona to keep intentionally unused water in Lake Mead instead of letting it continue down the river. The state could also add water from other sources to the river system. Five percent of the conserved water would be kept in the lake permanently, but the rest could later be released back to the state.  By keeping more water in the lake, the new agreement aims to reduce the amount and severity of water shortages.  The proposed three-state agreement is part of a larger set of guidelines being hashed out by all seven states that use water from the Colorado River. The seven states hope to be able to submit the agreement to federal officials by the summer so that it can go into effect in December, Guenther said. If approved, the agreement would be in effect through the end of 2025.  Mohave Daily News_2/1/07

Arizona, Nevada reach water deal; two states to share load in a drought
Under the terms, which were reviewed by water boards in the two states, Nevada would join Arizona in giving up water if drought triggered a shortage on the river. Nevada would also pay Arizona $8 million to help secure other water sources. Without the deal, Arizona would lose about half of its allocation before any other state gave up a drop. The agreement is a critical piece of a larger plan that will outline how all seven Colorado River states will manage their resources in a sustained drought. A draft of that plan will be released next month. In the meantime, Arizona lawmakers will be asked to allow Arizona, Nevada and California to store water from other sources in Lake Mead. By the time the U.S. Department of Interior releases its draft Colorado River drought plan Feb. 28, the seven river states will have finished work on several agreements needed to make the larger plan work. The three lower river states, Arizona, Nevada and California, were the busiest in recent months, completing two critical agreements among themselves. Arizona Republic/Tucson Citizen_ 1/29/07

New Colorado River accord approved by Southern Nevada Water Authority

A sweeping interstate agreement that could help double the local water supply won the approval of the Southern Nevada Water Authority Board on Thursday. The agreement, which is on track for federal approval by the end of the year, lays out new rules for how shortages on the Colorado River should be shared during long dry spells. The rules were first proposed by the seven Colorado River states last February and are now under review by the U.S. Department of Interior. Provisions in the agreement clear the way for Southern Nevada to roughly double its water supply through a variety of projects and regulatory changes over the next two decades, said Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy. Key provisions allow the state to collect credits for rural Nevada groundwater used in the Las Vegas Valley and released back into Lake Mead as treated wastewater and gives Nevada a greater share of Colorado River water. The state must build a new reservoir in California near the U.S.-Mexico border. Also Thursday, board members approved a related agreement with Arizona that spells out how much water Nevada will have to give up should a shortage be declared. The larger agreement, meanwhile, essentially turns Lake Mead into a bank account for Nevada, Arizona and California, allowing the states to buy water from farmers and store it in the lake for future use. The seven states that share the river also agreed to allow the joint operation of Lake Mead and Lake Powell to protect water supplies in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Most provisions of the agreement would apply through 2025. Ely Times_ 1/22/07

Destructive quagga mussels found at Metropolitan Water District plant at Lake Havasu

The destructive mussel was found earlier this month in Lake Mead and now has been discovered at intakes for the aqueduct system that carries water from the Colorado River to Southern California, raising fears that the invasive species could inflict costly damage to pipelines, aquatic life and waterways in California. Quagga mussels are native to Eastern Europe and have spread across the United States along with their troublesome relative, the zebra mussel. The infestation discovered Jan. 6 in Lake Mead near Las Vegas was the first in the West. The mussels found last week at an MWD plant at Lake Havasu and a pumping station two miles to the west were the first confirmed in California. A single quagga mussel was found Friday by California Department of Fish and Game divers about 14 miles away on the Colorado River. The prolific quagga mussels cluster by the millions and feed voraciously on phytoplankton, creating organic waste products that eat up oxygen and release toxic byproducts. Colonies of the mussels clog water intakes and outfall pipes and leave fewer nutrients to support the food chain of fish. Los Angeles Times_ 1/22/07 (logon required)

December, 2006

Las Vegas Sun special report on Lake Mead, Part 3 of 3: Southern Nevada Water Authority plans to put another straw deeper into the lake

The future of Southern Nevada is inextricably tied to the future of Lake Mead. Coming up - a third straw. Construction should begin in late 2007 and last about five years. The project is budgeted at $650 million, but Marc Jensen, engineering director for the Water Authority says the agency is estimating it will grow to about $800 million - a number roughly equal to that, in 2006 dollars, of the cost to build Hoover Dam. As important as the future of Lake Mead and the Colorado River is to Las Vegas, the stakes for neighboring Arizona and California are, in one sense, higher. In February, Interior Department officials are scheduled to release new guidelines on how the seven states and federal water managers will respond to looming shortages of Colorado River water. One element of the guidelines will consider how to add more water to the Colorado River system, including Lake Mead. Las Vegas Sun_ 12/31/06

Las Vegas Sun special report Part 2 of 3: Lake Mead's water, the smaller it gets, the dirtier it gets

Weird things are happening in Lake Mead. The Las Vegas Wash is a stream thjat delivers treated wastewater and urban runoff to the lake. The water is rich in phosphorus, a nutrient that sparks plant growth. Too much phosphorus can lead to too much algae growth that chokes the water and kills other plants and animals. And with the effluent comes trace amounts of contaminants that scientists believe can also profoundly affect fish and other animals in the lake waters. Some fish, for instance, seem to be changing sex. The treated wastewater is purer than the water that is available for municipal use in many parts of the world. Scientists who monitor the treated wastewater entering Lake Mead are finding pharmaceuticals that have already coursed through bodies, antibacterial additives in common cleaning products, and chemicals that give personal hygiene products their fragrances. Add to that the untreated runoff into Lake Mead with every passing rainstorm, over-watered lawn and car that's washed in the front driveway - water that carries pesticides, herbicides, animal waste, motor oil and gasoline down our curbs, storm drains and washes. And then there's the continued presence of perchlorate, a rocket-fuel ingredient produced in Henderson and slowly seeping into the wash. The combined effect of all the contamination is a toxic stew that could get nastier as the population in the Las Vegas Valley grows and the lake's water level drops because of the ongoing drought and increasing demand - resulting in less water to dilute the incoming contaminants. Las Vegas Sun_ 12/30/06

Las Vegas Sun special report, Part 1 of 3: Chasing Lake Mead's water

Demand and drought are causing the lake level to drop. Lake Mead is a critical water supply for Las Vegas, Southern California and Arizona. Demand for water from the entire Colorado River is also growing upstream from Lake Mead - in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico. Residents of all seven states on the river - especially the 2 million people of Southern Nevada - have a vital interest in the future of the lake. Everyone is chasing its water. At the same time, nature is providing less of it. Were it not for a single very good year of rain and snow in the Rocky Mountains in 2005, Lake Mead's upstream cousin, Lake Powell, would be heading for "dead pool" next year, meaning it would not have enough water to send to Lake Mead. If that were to occur, Lake Mead's water levels would plummet quickly. Pollution from Las Vegas wastewater and urban runoff has become more concentrated than a decade ago, and will only become worse unless something is done. That's why Lake Mead is the subject of more scientific scrutiny today than at any time in its history. It's also why big plans are under way that will permanently change its relationship with Las Vegas. Las Vegas Sun_ 12/29/06

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne wants Colorado River water pact from states next year

Kempthorne told water officials from seven Western states Friday that he expects an agreement on sharing Colorado River water during periods of drought ‘‘signed, sealed and delivered'' next year. Kempthorne used his first appearance before the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference to emphasize philosophy over policy and consensus over conflict. Kempthorne, a former Idaho governor and Republican senator, took over as interior secretary in May from Gale Norton, who threatened two years ago to impose a federal water-sharing plan if the seven states using Colorado River water could not reach consensus. A 1922 agreement allots each state a portion of some 15 million acre-feet of water a year flowing down the river to Mexico, which also has water rights. As southwestern U.S. cities have grown, the so-called lower basin states of Nevada, California and Arizona have been pitted against the upper basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico. The conflict has worsened in drought years. An environmental study on a preliminary drought plan reached last year was originally due to be released this month. It should be issued in early February, said Bob Johnson, director of the Bureau of Reclamation's lower Colorado River region. Kempthorne also said President Bush intends to sign a measure passed by Congress calling for lining a 23-mile stretch of the All-American Canal in Southern California with concrete to prevent water seepage. AP/Mohave Daily News_ 12/16/06

Water war brewing along Mexican border

The Bush administration is urging a federal appeals court to allow part of a canal separating California and Mexico to be lined with concrete to stop millions of gallons of water from seeping south of the border. A lawsuit seeking to block the project argues that shutting off that seepage would be detrimental to farmers and others in Mexico. The lining is proposed along a portion of the 82-mile All-American Canal that delivers Colorado River water to crop land on both sides of the border about 100 miles east of San Diego. The U.S. government says Mexico already gets 489 billion gallons of Colorado River water legitimately each year under a 1944 treaty and isn't entitled to the seepage, which provides a farming lifeline in Mexico. A Justice Department attorney told a panel of three appellate judges on Monday that Mexicans have no right to the water, which is also the lifeblood for 500,000 acres of U.S. farmland. The lining project will provide enough water for 135,000 new homes in the San Diego area. The San Francisco-based appeals court temporarily blocked construction of the $210 million, 23-mile-long lining in August after Mexican business interests and U.S. environmental groups sued. Colorado River water first flowed to California's arid southeast in 1901 on the Alamo Canal, which dipped into Mexico. California farmers soon decided they needed a canal completely within the United States, leading to completion of the All-American in 1942. The appeals court did not indicate when it would rule. The Mexican government is not a party to the case, but disapproved of the lining in court briefs. AP/Forbes_ 12/5/06

Bureau of Reclamation outlines tests to reap more Colorado River water

Authorities plan experiments in the coming year aimed at getting more water out of the Colorado River, which provides drinking water for Arizona and six other Western states.
The tests, outlined by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the river's annual operating plan, won't free up much water right away, nor will they end disputes among the seven states about how to deal with drought. But officials believe the ideas could help avoid water shortages and help the states find ways to better manage the overworked river. A draft of the plan was presented to representatives from the seven river states last week. It takes effect Sunday. Most of the experiments are intended to reduce wasted water. They include a three-month test of a desalination plant in Yuma, expansion of a pilot program that pays farmers not to plant crops and construction of a small reservoir near the river's end to catch unused water before it reaches Mexico. A study several years ago found the United States was losing 500,000 acre-feet or more in some years to waste and flawed delivery procedures. Arizona Republic/Tucson Citizen_ 9/28/06

August, 2006

Las Vegas water plan suffers setback; State engineer won't ignore environmental issues

State Engineer Tracy Taylor, in a 19-page decision, largely rejected an effort by lawyers for the Southern Nevada Water Authority to limit consideration of environmental issues in the hearings, scheduled Sept. 11-29 in Carson City. Taylor also rejected a Water Authority motion to exclude consideration of the effects on recreation and "scenic values" the ground water pumping and exportation could have. The Water Authority and its opponents - which include federal agencies, residents of rural eastern Nevada and western Utah, the Sierra Club and the Western Environmental Law Center - are dueling over the plan to pump water to growing Las Vegas from White Pine County, 250 miles north of the city. Authority officials say the supply is critically needed to augment the drought-threatened Colorado River, now the source of more than 90 percent of the water used in the Las Vegas Valley. Las Vegas Sun_ 8/10/06

July, 2006

Rocky Mountain water runoff not swelling Colorado River as much as expected

The critical April-through-July runoff period in the mountains, which provides most of the water going to the river, is more than 25 percent off the average. The disappointing results make this the sixth year of the last seven in which flows were significantly below average. The Bureau of Reclamation, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and all seven states that share the Colorado River are working to devise a set of rules on how to handle long-term water shortages. Colleen Dwyer, a federal Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman, said the talks among the participants are on track to have the new rules in place by the end of 2007. Las Vegas Sun_ 7/30/06

Warmer and drier than normal spring keeps Lake Powell water levels low

After an encouraging start to the water year (which began Oct. 1), the mammoth reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border will wind up with less than 75 percent of its normal runoff - and could still go lower - because of a warmer and drier than normal spring in the upper Colorado River Basin. Bureau of Reclamation officials projected as late as April that Powell would get close to its average amount of snowmelt (about 97 percent). As of mid-June, Lake Powell's overall water level stood at 51 percent of capacity. As things stand, the west Colorado River Basin stands at drier than normal, while the Bear River Basin is still considered to be in a drought. The rest of the state's water supply is rated normal. Salt Lake Tribune_ 7/11/06

U.S.-Mexico border fight focuses on Colorado River water, not immigration

The ties that bind Calexico in the U.S. and Mexicali, south of the border, are being tested as a 20-year dispute over the rights to water leaking into Mexico from a canal on the American side is reaching a peak. To slake the ever-growing thirst of San Diego, 100 miles to the west, the United States has a plan to replace a 23-mile segment of the earthen All-American Canal, which the federal government owns and the Colorado River feeds, with a concrete-lined parallel trough. The $225 million project would send more water to San Diego, by cutting off billions of leaked gallons — enough for 112,000 households a year — that have helped irrigate Mexican farms since the 1940's. But Mexican farmers and their advocates say the lined canal would effectively turn off the spigot for 25,000 people, including 400 farmers whose wells rely on the seepage that has helped turn the powdery fields east of Mexicali, an industrial city, into one of the biggest Mexican producers of onions, alfalfa, asparagus, squash and other crops. The farmers and their families ask what will they do if they cannot till the fields and answer that they will cross the border, illegally if they have to, in droves. New York Times_ 7/7/06 (logon required)

June, 2006

Utah farms on front line in fight against costly Colorado River water salinity

Every year, 9 million tons of salt- half of which is generated by human activity - flows downstream throughout the vast Colorado River Basin. Salt levels reach such high concentrations at the final diversion point, California's Imperial Dam, that both municipal and agricultural water users wind up paying a steep price. Economic damage to the basin states - Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California - totals about $330 million a year in reduced crop yields and increased water-treatment costs. But project by project, federal and state agencies, and local communities, are taking on the issue. Earlier this month, Bureau of Reclamation officials and farmers from the eastern Utah town of Ferron unveiled the Ferron Salinity Control Irrigation Project, one of the first large-scale attempts to deal with the problem - and perhaps the most collaborative. Today, with 10,000 acres now being irrigated by the new sprinkler system (and the 175 miles of pipe that connects it), farmers are not only keeping 47,000 tons of salt out of the Colorado River system annually; they're also improving water efficiency, soil conditions, crop yields and wildlife habitat. Because of the system's increased efficiency, a water supply that used to give out by late summer now extends well into fall. Salt Lake Tribune_ 6/20/06

March, 2006

Mormon church cashes in on water rights, gets $7.2 million for leases to Nevada's Muddy River

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has struck a $7.2 million deal to lease water on the Muddy River from what might seem an unlikely source: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Mormon church owns land and water rights all over the region and the country. Some of its holdings are left over from when the church helped settle what is now Utah, Nevada and Arizona in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1978, the church bought the Warm Springs Ranch, within the headwaters of the Muddy River about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Since then, the church has sold off much of the ranch once owned by Howard Hughes but kept much of the water rights. The water authority's lease with the church is for 2,001 acre-feet of water a year for 20 years, with an option for two 10-year extensions. When stretched through reuse and other means, the water should be enough to supply about 6,500 Las Vegas Valley households annually. Because the Muddy River empties into Lake Mead, the authority won't have to build a pipeline to get the water. It can be taken using the authority's existing intakes at the lake, just as soon as the U.S. Department of Interior signs off on the so-called "lake conveyance" of Colorado River tributary water. That is expected to happen by the end of 2007. The Moapa Valley Water District will get a similar amount of Muddy River water under the lease agreement. Some of that water could be used to supply a new 1,600 residential development proposed in Moapa Valley. The church also owns a large ranch in Spring Valley, one of two basins in White Pine County targeted for groundwater pumping by the water authority in its $2 billion pipeline project. Las Vegas Review-Journal_ 3/27/06

February, 2006

California clash brews over tainted waters

If ever you doubted the dictum often attributed to Mark Twain that in the West whiskey is for drinking but water is for fighting over, the New River stands as proof. Long branded the dirtiest river in America, this aquatic nightmare slithers into the United States from Mexico through the border city of Calexico in the Imperial Valley. Technically, it is not a river but a ditch carrying drainage water the color of pea soup that brims with sewage, animal carcasses and industrial waste from Mexicali. Surely no one would fight for ownership of what one county health official has called "a rattlesnake in our backyard."

Wrong.

This is California. If there is water, even filthy water, there are lawyers and politicians arguing over who owns it. Los Angeles Times_ 2/24/06 (logon required)

Column: California water firm awash in political influence

Let us today hoist a glass — preferably of cool, clean Colorado River water — to Keith Brackpool, a walking illustration of how the generous bestowal of campaign donations and other largess can keep a man cozy with California politicians, even in the face of evidence that what he's selling may not be worth buying. Brackpool is the chairman and chief executive of Cadiz Inc. For years, Cadiz tried to entice the Metropolitan Water District into a $150-million scheme to store surplus water from the Colorado in the Mojave Desert. The skeptical MWD, which serves most of Southern California, finally nixed the project in 2002. The latest moth caught circling his flame is Susan Kennedy, Gov. Schwarzenegger's chief of staff. As my colleague Robert Salladay reported last week, Kennedy, a Democrat, received $120,000 from Cadiz as a "consultant" in 2005 while serving on the state Public Utilities Commission. The PUC doesn't directly regulate Cadiz, but it has a considerable voice in water policy, a topic that also falls within Kennedy's current portfolio. Los Angeles Times_ 2/13/06 (logon required)

California governnor's top aide was paid by water developer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's new chief of staff, who is spearheading a $9-billion plan to improve California's water system, was paid $120,000 last year by a Los Angeles developer seeking to build a massive water storage project under the Mojave Desert. According to interviews and her financial disclosure statement, Susan P. Kennedy earned $10,000 per month in 2005 as a consultant to Cadiz Real Estate, operated by her longtime friend Keith Brackpool. For nearly a decade, the British-born Brackpool has tried unsuccessfully to put together a public-private partnership that would use the aquifers under his San Bernardino property to store water for use during droughts. As Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Kennedy is responsible for advancing the governor's proposals to fix the state's crumbling infrastructure through government projects and public-private partnerships. Part of that plan would raise $9 billion in bond money to improve the state's water storage and management system. Los Angeles Times_ 2/10/06 (logon required)

January, 2006

Colorado River states reach drought sharing agreement

Water officials from the states that share the Colorado River reached agreement Tuesday on a wide-ranging drought management plan that they will propose to Interior Secretary Gale Norton this week. After two days of talks in Las Vegas, water officials said they put the finishing touches on proposals that would allow the seven states flexibility in determining how much water is released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead, the system's two major reservoirs. It would force the states to review their management plans in times of extreme shortages. The proposal also encourages investment in technologies, water exploration and infrastructure improvements that could increase the amount of water in the system, and it would let the states reap the benefits of their own projects. And it urges the federal government to pressure Mexico in times of drought to take less of the 1.5 million acre-feet of water it's entitled to under treaty. AP/Las Vegas Sun_ 1/31/06

Colorado River water on states' agenda

Professional water managers from seven states are once again flocking to Las Vegas for what may be a do-or-die meeting to hammer out recommended rules on how to deal with water shortages in the Colorado River system. Legal and technical teams from the seven basin states of the drought-ravaged river are already meeting, but the leadership from the states, the federal Interior Department and water agencies in the West are scheduled to meet in Las Vegas Jan. 30. Interior Secretary Gale Norton has asked the states that use the river for recommendations on how to deal with shortages or face imposition of the rules by her department. Interior's Bureau of Reclamation manages the river's twin giant reservoirs, lakes Powell and Mead, which are almost half empty due to years of drought and growing demand. Southern Nevada gets nearly all of its water from the Colorado River. Southern California depends on the resource to fertilize millions of acres of vegetables and to augment supplies for more than 20 million people. Other states from Wyoming to Arizona also depend on the river. Kay Brothers, Southern Nevada Water Authority deputy general manager, said the Jan. 30 meeting will be critical for drafting the recommendations on how to share shortages on the river and how to manage the lakes in a coordinated way. Las Vegas Sun_ 1/21/06

San Diego County Water Authority approves 23-mile canal to deliver enough water for 112,000 households over the next 110 years

The concrete-lined stretch of the 82-mile All-American Canal in Imperial Valley had been estimated to cost about $237 million. However, through a complicated set of agreements, the Water Authority has been given $136 million by the state to offset the project's cost. Water officials said they won't know exact costs until companies begin bidding to build it. It's scheduled for completion in 2008. The canal-lining project ---- which has been talked about for many years ---- is part of a complex series of agreements among San Diego County, Imperial Valley and federal officials to conserve Colorado River water that is now seeping into the earthen beds of the Imperial Valley canal and transfer it to San Diego County. The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the canal, is expected to approve the deal. North County Times_ 1/12/06

December, 2005

Las Vegas nearing its water allotment from the Colorado River

The booming Las Vegas area's water demands could outstrip the region's share of the Colorado River by 2007, according to the 2006 water budget approved by the Southern Nevada Water Authority board. Kay Brothers, the water authority's deputy general manager, called that timeline a worst-case situation, adding that through conservation and careful planning the state could stretch its share of the river water beyond 2007. The water authority already plans to build a $2 billion pipeline to pump groundwater from basins in rural Nevada. Officials also hope to use water from the Virgin and Muddy Rivers. New York Times_ 12/11/05 (logon required)

Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado water agencies reach agreement on releases from Green Mountain Reservoir
The settlement was announced by representatives of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. The agreement represents a collaborative resolution to a lawsuit filed by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and other West Slope water users. The suit contested how Reclamation allocated Green Mountain water releases in 2002 as a precautionary move to ensure that reservoir draw-down did not contribute to the pre-existing landslide. Reclamation operates Green Mountain Reservoir as part of the federal Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT), for the benefit of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and West Slope water users. Press Release_ 12/9/05

November, 2005

Feud over Colorado River water simmering

A 2003 deal that forced California desert farmers to leave land fallow to quench San Diego's thirst was to have ended tensions. But lawsuits have sprouted. A group of farmers and the Imperial County Board of Supervisors is attacking the water deal in Sacramento County Superior Court. The legal action challenges the authority of the Imperial Irrigation District's board to make water deals without approval of the farmers. If the farmers and county supervisors win, the deal could be squelched and negotiations would have to begin all over again on getting more river water to San Diego. The water deal was made after years of pressure from the Clinton and Bush administrations for California to begin to live within a "water budget" instead of relying on taking more water from the Colorado than the state is assured under laws governing the river. In addition to the Sacramento legal action, environmental groups are suing in federal court in Las Vegas to block a project to line the All-American Canal, which brings river water to the Imperial Valley. Under the deal, lining the canal is meant to make water available for San Diego by reducing seepage. The lawsuit alleges that by lining the canal, California would harm the farmers of the Mexicali Valley, who have come to depend on seepage from the canal. Los Angeles Times_ 11/7/05 (logon required)

October, 2005

Colorado water study floodgates to open up

A new study will soon be under way to evaluate the effects of a water plan that has been dubbed a “global solution” for water disputes between Colorado's Western Slope and the Front Range. The April 2005 Colorado River Basins Proposal, which has not been released to the public, was drafted by Western Slope individuals as a legal settlement with Denver Water. The water quality, cost, and hydrology aspects of the proposal will be determined by the study, with organizers currently assembling a “dream team” of consultants from across the state to undertake the work. Officials expect the study to be complete in 10 months and cost about $200,000. Daily Sentinel_ 10/18/05

Las Vegas no closer to water solution; opposing sides, separate meetings emphasize split

About all anyone agrees on in Southern Nevada's water debate is this: Las Vegas is about tapped out. The region's torrid pace of growth and a drought in the Colorado River region have sent Southern Nevada Water Authority officials looking for other sources of water. Plans to pipe water from rural Nevada have already run into fierce opposition as have discussions to rework the agreements that divvy up the water from the Colorado River, the source of 90 percent of Las Vegas' drinking water. The dividing line in the water debate was clearly marked this week as environmentalists and water planners attended separate events in Las Vegas. In a meeting Wednesday, Sierra Club members soundly rapped the Water Authority for looking to Lincoln, Nye and White Pine counties for water to allow future growth. In a conference Thursday and Friday, water professionals said the need for water, exacerbated by years of drought affecting the Colorado River, has forced the Water Authority to look at pumping water from rural Nevada. Las Vegas Sun_ 10/15/05

Chief of southern Nevada's water agency says state won't wilt on Colorado River water issue

Southern Nevada "is going to be as aggressive as it needs to be over the next several years," Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told water managers from California and the West at the end of a three-day conference. Mulroy was referring to the specter of potential legal battles hanging over the Urban Water Institute conference and a simultaneous meeting across town of the seven basin states of the Colorado River, including Nevada. The stakes for some of the players are huge, and are being driven by the threat to the river posed by years of drought and by increasing demand and competition for the river resource. In the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, Arizona is concerned that its junior rank among the three states could mean it bears the brunt of potential cuts. Nevada is fighting for the right to take water from the Virgin River, a Colorado River tributary, without being charged for that taking from the state's allotment from Lake Mead. Las Vegas Sun_ 8/29/05

States work out plan for Colorado River water
The seven Colorado River states have agreed on a blueprint to deal with drought and future water shortages but left key issues unresolved, including a dispute over whether Arizona and Nevada can tap in-state tributaries. The proposals are aimed at protecting cities from shortages if drought leaves the Colorado unable to meet demands fully. The pact calls for still-unspecified plans to spread shortages among all users, an important provision for Arizona, which would bear the brunt of drought cutbacks under existing agreements. But keeping peace on the river will likely hinge on satisfying Nevada, which has nearly exhausted its Colorado River apportionment and wants to draw water from the Virgin River, a tributary of the Colorado. States on the upper river object, calling the plan a back-door attempt to add to Nevada's legal share of water. Representatives from the states signed the agreement Thursday in San Diego and sent it on Friday to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who has told the states she will impose her own plan if talks among them fail. Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. said the final agreement includes the three basic elements that have been discussed for months: better managing of the river's two largest storage reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell; improving efficiency among users, mostly farmers who order water almost daily; and augmenting the river's flow. Arizona Republic_ 8/27/05 (logon required)

Colorado River basin states meet to develop plan for water shortages

Representatives of the seven states of the Colorado River basin met Thursday amid calls for cooperation and collaboration, but even as they did one of the key players was preparing for legal combat. Arizona, the most junior among the seven states in terms of priority access to the water of the Colorado River, is preparing a $1.5 million fund to pay for legal work if the contentious issues of dividing the river go to the courts, Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Water Resources Department, said. Arizona and the other six states of the river, including Nevada, worked Thursday to produce a tentative road map for handling shortages if the supply continues to fall in the river's principal reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell. Also dividing the states are plans by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to develop in-state resources to augment the agency's topped-out supply from Lake Mead. The issues threaten the basic Colorado River Compact, which has formed the basis for river law since 1922, said a Las Vegas official. Nevada Water Authority plans to treat and divert water from the Virgin and Muddy rivers, which are Colorado River tributaries, to Las Vegas have contributed to divisions between the upper basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico and lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada. Las Vegas Sun_ 8/26/05

Arizona braces for Colorado River water war
Arizona has created a legal defense fund to protect its Colorado River allocation in the event a simmering dispute among other states flares into a regional water war. The state hopes to raise at least $1.5 million in the coming months to prepare for possible lawsuits, though officials admit costs could climb many times higher if the dispute spills into a courtroom. At stake is Arizona's ability to grow. A worst-case loss in court could force the state to give up half of the water that flows through the Central Arizona Project Canal and leave it in reservoirs to benefit upstream users or satisfy a treaty with Mexico. Representatives from all seven Colorado River states met today in San Diego to consider a plan that might solve some of the issues without legal action. The plan is aimed at wringing every possible drop from the river even if it means punching holes in clouds. The states hope to submit their proposals to Interior Secretary Gale Norton next week as part of a larger effort to create a long-term drought plan for the Colorado. Drought and growth have pushed the river past its limits and renewed tensions among the states, whose bickering dates back decades. Arizona Republic_ 8/25/05 (logon required)

January, 2005

Colorado leaders to weigh protections for Western Slope water, restrictions on cities' abilities to divert water for recreational purposes and the biggie -  what do do about the Colorado River

An unprecedented fight is shaping up over the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which governs how water in the river is divided between seven states. The upper basin states — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — are required to deliver a certain amount of water to the lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California, according to the compact. But Lake Powell, which assured the compact's requirement for sending enough water downstream, is drying up — literally — because of the ongoing drought. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton has given the seven states until May to come to an agreement on how to share Colorado River water. Grand Junction Daily Sentinel_ 1/18/05

December, 2004

Nevada officials approve $330 million Colorado River water-sharing pact with Arizona

The pact is intended to ensure supplies for tens of thousands of new homes planned for the booming Las Vegas metropolitan area over the next several years. Nevada officials called the deal an important "bridge" to help the area withstand a drought. The pact will also provide time to tap underground water. Reuters_ 12/16/04

Arizona Water Banking Authority adds its OK to $330 million Las Vegas water agreement

The Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas is scheduled to vote on it within a few days. The agreement calls for Arizona to guarantee 1.25 million acre-feet of its annual Colorado River water allotment to Nevada in return for $330 million from the Las Vegas-area water authority over the next 15 years. It includes a pledge for Las Vegas water officials to support Arizona's call for a rewrite of rules allocating Colorado River water. California is entitled to 4.4 million acre-feet of water yearly from the river, Arizona 2.8 million and Nevada 300,000. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 12/10/04

COLORADO RIVER: Transfer of water approved
$330 million deal to give Nevada reserve from Arizona's allotment

Arizona's largest water supplier has approved a plan that would transfer 1.25 million acre-feet of the state's Colorado River water to Nevada, a reserve large enough to supply Southern Nevada for four years. In exchange, Arizona would get $330 million and Nevada's support as it seeks to change a decades-old agreement that forces Arizona to absorb the largest share of any shortage on the Colorado River.  Las Vegas Review Journal _12/4/04

Mexico will pay off U.S. water debt 'in the next few years'

A 1944 water-sharing treaty requires Mexico to send the United States an average of 350,000 acre-feet of water annually from six Rio Grande tributaries. The United States in return must send Mexico 1.5 million acre feet from the Colorado River. Abundant rains in 2003 and 2004 largely replenished South Texas' two Rio Grande reservoirs and allowed Mexico to reduce its water debt from 1.5 million acre-feet to less than 800,000 acre-feet. Rio Grande Valley irrigators and farmers have filed a US$500 million damage claim against Mexico for crop loss and other damages the group says were caused by that country's failure to comply with the two countries' water-sharing treaty. AP/Arizona Daily Sun_ 11/11/04

October, 2004

Pact with California agency would let Las Vegas 'bank' Colorado River water

Southern Nevada would get a new water savings account, while California would gain access to more of the Colorado River under an accord approved by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. The interstate agreement seeks to send a portion of Nevada's unused Colorado River water downstream for use by California. In return, Nevada would get credit for the water and the ability to draw it out of Lake Mead at a later date, when the state needs more than the 300,000 acre-feet that make up its annual allocation. The agreement requires the final blessing of the water authority's board and the Bureau of Reclamation, which carries out the interior secretary's role as water master for the Colorado River. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 10/13/04

September, 2004

U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs pact with Arizona, Nevada and California to protect wildlife habitat on the Colorado River and aid native species

The Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program will create 8,100 acres of riparian, marsh and backwater habitat for about 27 species, six of which are endangered. The program is designed to protect habitat between Lake Mead and the U.S.-Mexico border while ensuring enough water is available and power operations using Colorado River water can continue. The river supplies water and power to 20 million people in Arizona, Nevada and California.  AP/Newsday_ 9/15/04

Central Arizona Water Conservation Board agrees to plan with California and Nevada to protect endangered species along the lower Colorado River

The states hope the plan will block law suits that could threaten river access. Over 50 years, the plan could cost Arizona $100 million or more, but state officials say it's worth it to help protect the state's share of the Colorado River as well as the river itself. Environmental groups dismiss the species plan as a weak attempt to protect water and power users. The final plan, which would take effect May 1, will likely face one or more court challenges. Arizona Republic_ 8/6/04 (logon required)

July, 2004

Struggling Nevada pushes its neighbors for more of the river
The Colorado River is as defined by conflict as it is by canyons, and that conflict has shaped the laws that govern the river.
Five years of drought have hit Las Vegas harder than almost anyplace else on the Colorado River. But along the river, other states are wrestling with their own problems and aren't in any mood to rewrite water law to help Nevada or anyone else. AZ Central (log on required)_7/22/04

 

Impact of Colorado River agreement feared in Mexico

The All-American canal feeds groundwater for wells just south of the U.S.-Mexican border. But California is paving the canal to increase water supplies to San Diego and reduce the state's draw on the Colorado River. The lining of the All-American Canal is part of an agreement reached last year to transfer water from the Imperial Valley to San Diego County and find ways to conserve water.  San Diego Union_ 7/6/04

 

May, 2004
Southern California's Metropolitan Water District approves plan to pay farmers for urban use of Colorado River irrigation water
Under a 35-year agreement, which will have a startup cost of $100 million, farmers in the inland Palo Verde district would receive steady payments for taking their land out of production and making the water from the Colorado River available to coastal customers. The MWD, a consortium of 26 cities and local water districts, supplies water to nearly 18 million people in parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. AP/San Francisco Chronicle_ 5/11/04

October, 2003

California's Imperial Valley Water District begins planning for Colorado River water sharing.  Imperial Valley Press 10/29/03

Here we go again. California's Imperial Valley water district blasts San Diego water for "misleading" information used to show support for water plan. The plan is supposed to end Colorado River water wars.  Press Release 10/26/03

Commentary: Colorado River pact may not end West's water wars.  LA Times 10/21/03

Colorado governor says California water pact is good reason for passage of $2 billion water referendum.  AP/The Casper Star-Tribune 10/17/03

Officials sign deal to end Colorado River feud, divide up water.  L.A. Times 10/17/03

Officials sign deal to end Colorado River feud, divide up water.  L.A. Times 10/17/03

Interior Secretary Norton signs deal to share Colorado River water. "With this agreement, conflict on the river is stilled."  AP/San Diego Tribune 10/16/03

Interior Secretary Norton signs historic Colorado River water pact.  US Newswire 10/16/03

Colorado River deal: New definition of "waste" sets precedent in Western water policy.  Environmental News Network 10/10/03

Arizona U.S. senator lauds Colorado River pact. Calls water supply, conservation keys to growth.  Arizona Republic 10/10/03

It's official. Four southern California water agencies sign landmark Colorado River deal.  AP/San Francisco Chronicle 10/10/03

Will air quality in California's Imperial Valley kill Colorado River water deal? Court orders clean-up. NBC San Diego 10/10/03

End of Colorado River fight in Southern California is good news to Nevada building boom.  Review Journal

Split Imperial water board gives final OK to Colorado River sharing. Local opposition is fierce: The rest of Southern California is not asking for the water, says board chair. "They are here for the taking."  Desert Sun

California's biggest user of the Colorado River approves landmark water sharing plan. Imperial Irrigation District's 3-2 vote ends years of bickering within California. Impacts eight western states.  AP/San Francisco Chronicle

Colorado River agreement: "We'd be at war with the whole Western world if we don't approve it," mayor of town in Imperial Valley.  Imperial Valley Press

County Supervisors in last area to review California's Colorado River water sharing plan look for the details. Imperial water district scheduled to vote today.  Imperial Valley Press

September 

The Colorado River in Colorado. Where it goes.  Vail Daily

California governor signs historic Colorado River water bills. How it works.  Desert Sun

Colorado River water pact a tough swallow for California's Imperial Valley farmers.  San Diego Union-Tribune

California officials hail governor's signing of Colorado River pact with water-filled champagne glasses. Imperial water district still hasn't voted. "What are we? Chopped liver?"  San Diego Tribune

California takes major step to end Colorado River water wars. Governor signs legislation on southern California water sharing after seven years of negotiation. One water district still must OK the deal.  Reuters

California's Imperial Valley Water District and the U.S. Interior Dept. settle suit over water allocation. Opens door to approval of Colorado River agreement. Formal vote may come Thursday.  Imperial Valley Press

What will happen to California's Salton Sea once US Filter is sold?  Desert Sun

San Diego water board becomes third to OK Colorado River deal. Now its up to California's Imperial Valley district. Vote Oct. 7.  San Diego Union-Tribune

Second water district approves Colorado River water sharing plan.  The Desert Sun

Southern California's powerful MWD signs 75-year Colorado River water agreement. Affects areas from Wyoming to San Diego. San Diego Union Tribune

Mixed reactions in California's pivotal Imperial Valley. Two water board members in favor, one opposed and two unsure. The Desert Sun

MWD first to sign Colorado River water agreement. "Long and difficult road," official says.  AP/Riverside Press Enterprise

After seven years of negotiation and sometimes acrimony, MWD approves plan to reallocate Colorado River water.  L.A. Times

Colorado River agreement closer.  Arizona Republic  

MWD signs 75-year water pact that sets amount of Colorado River water used by Imperial and Coachella agencies. MWD Press Release/Business Wire

Water officials praise California governor's office for role in Colorado River deal.  The Desert Sun

Feds: Water deal may be unraveling. The Desert Sun

Imperial water deal churns again. Sacramento Bee

So near and yet so far. New dispute threatens historic Colorado River agreement.Copley News Service

New tactics threaten water deal. Los Angeles Times

California state Senate sends historic water package to governor. Agreement could bring peace to one of the west's most intractable water wars. AP/San Jose Mercury News

Oops. Maybe not. U.S. Interior Dept. official says Imperial water district is threatening the water pact. Not true, replies water agency. AP/San Jose Mercury News

California state Assembly unanimously approves bills to implement Colorado River water agreement. Measures must clear state Senate by Friday night. AP/Press Enterprise

Congressman writes: Selling California's water down the river. San Francisco Chronicle

Heads of four California water agencies publicly commit to 75-year Colorado River water sharing. "A new way of doing business in the west," says aide to governor. AP/Yahoo

Water experts afraid to break out the champagne until California's battling water agencies make Colorado River pact official. Too many past disapointments. AP/The Casper Star-Tribune

California official hopeful that Colorado River deal may help save Salton Sea. L.A. Times

California water agencies reach 75-year Colorado River deal. Six other western states can claim their full share. State lawmakers rush approval. AP/San Francisco Chronicle

Nevada water authority offers $82 million to end fight with California over long-delayed Colorado River water-sharing deal. AP/San Francisco Chronicle

Irate officials rip L.A. agency as water-sharing talks collapse. Sacramento Bee

Earlier: California governor aide threatens to cut the powerful Metropolitan Water District out of Colorado River water talks. Southern California agency is blamed for holding up the long-delayed water sharing agreement. AP/San Jose Mercury-News

 

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