These are some of the dire consequences that could result if states, cities and farms in the western United States fail to agree on how to reduce the amount of water they draw from the Colorado River.
Yet over the years, seven river-dependent states have allowed more water from rivers than nature can replenish.Although the crisis has been widely recognized, States miss deadlines Major cuts that the federal government says are necessary were proposed this week.
Any unilateral action by federal officials could shift the conversation from the negotiating table to the courts and delay action even longer.
The river pours down from the Rocky Mountains to the deserts of the Southwest, quenching the thirst of 40 million people in the United States and Mexico and sustaining a $15 billion-a-year agricultural industry.
But for a century, agreements governing how water is shared have been based on false assumptions about how much water is available.and Climate change makes the region hotter and drierthe difference becomes impossible to ignore.
lake powell and Lake Mead, the two largest reservoirs that hold the Colorado River water, fell to dangerously low levels faster than anyone expected.decline Potential to disrupt hydroelectric power and water delivered to cities and farms.
While everyone agrees the stakes are high, states and the U.S. government have struggled to agree on what to do.
People “have been hoping to avoid this day,” said Felicia Marcus, a former senior water official in California, which has the largest river rights. “But now I don’t think we can expect Mother Nature to bail us out next year. Now is the time to make some of these really tough decisions.”
Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Mexico and some tribes also mine the river.
Officials have been warning about the river’s condition for years, but also reassuring people that the system won’t collapse. The two-part message came to the fore this week when states failed to meet deadlines set by the reclamation agency to propose a 15% to 30% cut in water use.
As the deadline passed on Tuesday, the potentially dramatic moment amounted to a shrug. Officials said they remained confident the states would reach a deal given more time.
Visiting California the next day, Reclamation Commissioner Camille Tutton repeatedly dodged questions about what might happen next. She did not specify what the bureau’s more aggressive action might look like or when it might happen.
She said the federal government was “ready to move forward alone”. But officials “will continue to discuss with everyone what the process is.”
Not everyone is happy with this approach.
“I’m asking them to at least be very clear about how this threat is going to be imposed,” said John Enzminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Entsminger and his counterparts in Arizona, Utah and California, as well as local officials in and around Phoenix, also repeated what has become common wisdom: They say they are very concerned about the future of the river, but want to pay attention to water. The author guarantees that the river will not stop flowing immediately.
“It’s not a situation that people should be worried about, you know, the water is going to run out in days, weeks, months. But it’s clear that the entire river system is going through something unprecedented,” California Natural Resources Secretary Wade G. Lauford said.
The cuts will force people to make tough decisions about who has to spend less.As states draw on other resources and adopt strategies such as Wastewater recycling make up the difference.
In some places, officials have voluntarily implemented strict protections, including Limit lawn watering and Pay farmers not to plant The field even bans new water connections.This Climate legislation signed by President Biden on Tuesday $4 billion was provided that could be used to pay Colorado River users to cut expenses, but it’s unclear how that will work.
The shrinking river has heightened tensions between the Rocky Mountain states and their downstream neighbors over who is to blame. It also pits developing cities against agricultural areas.
In Pinal County, Arizona, Kelly Anderson grows specialty crops for the flower industry and leases the land to alfalfa farmers, whose crops are fed to cattle on a nearby dairy farm. He expects about half of the region will be left uncultivated next year after farmers in the region completely lose access to the river.
Although farmers use most of the water, they have less room to save water than cities, which are more likely to recycle water or utilize other resources. The river is the lifeblood of places like California’s Empire Valley, where vegetables like broccoli, onions and carrots are grown. A lack of water can have a knock-on effect throughout the food system.
The state is not the only negotiating table. Native American tribes hold some of the oldest water rights and hold a unique position in negotiations because the federal government needs to protect their interests.
The Colorado River Indian tribe along the Arizona-California border used to supply Lake Mead with water. They can be summoned again.
“Our high power doesn’t mean we can or should stand idly by,” said Amelia Flores, president of the Colorado River Indian Tribe. “We won’t let the river die.”
Upper Basin states — Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — argue they shouldn’t face cuts because they historically haven’t used up all the water they promised a century ago.
They want to protect their share of population growth expectations and have not adopted water conservation policies like Arizona and Nevada.
Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Commission, said many people in the Rocky Mountains wrongly believe their water rights are secure, the cuts will continue to affect their downstream neighbors, and a wet winter could reverse the river’s decline.
“If we can’t agree on what the crisis is, we have no incentive to come up with a solution,” he said.
Arizona, Nevada and California have said they are willing to put water or money on the negotiating table, but so far not enough to reach a deal.
A growing number of senior officials and environmental advocates say states and the federal government are sending a mixed message by emphasizing the seriousness of the situation but delaying meaningful action.
James Eklund, an attorney and former director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said the shrinking reservoir presents an opportunity to rethink how the river is managed and incentivize conservation — if only officials wanted to.
Bureaucrats continue to think they can delay change, he said. The problem is “this doesn’t really work here because taking no action means we’re heading for a cliff.”
Ronayne reported from Madera, California. Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca from Flagstaff, Arizona.