A draft supplementary environmental impact statement that examines alternative options for managing the current drought in the Colorado River Basin was made public on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation on behalf of the Biden administration. This might be a vital first step in enacting restrictions on Colorado River water distribution.
Months of conversations and cooperation among Basin states, water commissioners, water managers, farmers, irrigators, and towns, among others, led to the creation of the text. In August, the government plans to make a final decision that will take effect in 2024 over how to handle the water deficit.
Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, the seven states that depend on the drought-stricken Colorado River, failed to fulfill a federal deadline of January 31 to come to an agreement on voluntarily reducing water consumption. The Biden administration may be forced to make cutbacks as a result of this standoff given that the West is now experiencing a historic drought and record-low reservoir levels.
More than 40 million Americans get their water from the Colorado River Basin. It sustains agriculture and agricultural communities across the West, powers hydropower plants in eight states, and is a vital resource for 30 Tribal Nations. Tommy Beaudreau, the deputy secretary of the US Department of the Interior, said that failure is not an option.
In light of the severity of the increasingly severe drought, Beaudreau continued, the Biden-Harris administration is using every available tool and resource in accordance with the President’s Investing in America agenda to safeguard the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River System both now and in the future.
The Colorado River has always been overused, but drought conditions in the area have become worse due to climate change, and reservoir levels have fallen over the last several decades. The two biggest reservoirs in the nation, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have water levels that are at record lows as the western U.S. undergoes their driest two decades in at least 1,200 years.
Although California has had a very rainy few months and the rain has undoubtedly helped, the drought that has reduced the Colorado River Basin will need water conservation on the part of the seven states that rely on the river.
The Colorado River Basin has been experiencing drought-like conditions for two decades, according to Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.
All the states that rely on the 1,450-mile Colorado River for its water supply will need to come to an agreement in order to address the drought. Touton said in a written statement that “to meet this moment, we must continue to work together, through a commitment to protecting the river, leading with science and a shared understanding that unprecedented conditions require new solutions.”
A solution has thus far been difficult to reach, however, as nations that rely on the water firmly stand their ground. “To make the most responsible operational choices, the Department must take into account the overall situation in the Basin in the absence of agreement among all organizations impacted by modified operations. “Specific entities will almost certainly object to the impacts of one or more aspects of water management decisions due to the overall sound and prudent operation of the major reservoirs on the Colorado River system during a period of declining inflows and historically low reservoirs,” the 476-page report states.
Every alternative that the federal government has presented would be challenging for stakeholders to cope with, the administration admits. Every feasible alternative, according to the paper, “involves challenging water management impacts and unprecedented reductions for entities in the Basin.”