Colorado River states submit proposal for usage reductions

Jan. 30—Colorado and five other Colorado River states have reached a consensus on how they plan to reduce their water usage, the states announced Monday.

The proposal, which the states will submit to the federal Bureau of Reclamation, suggests changes to the criteria for Colorado River usage reductions including operating guidelines for Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell and Hoover Dam at Lake Mead. The states had until Tuesday to establish major cutbacks in water use.

The proposal is being submitted at a time when federal pressures to reduce water use are high and the river system nears catastrophe with lakes Mead and Powell approaching critical levels. The Colorado River has been listed as the most endangered river in the U.S., according to a report from the nonprofit organization American Rivers.

The proposal was signed by Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. California is the only river state that did not sign, drawing criticism from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who called California's decision "deeply disappointing" in a statement.

The proposal calls for reduced releases from lakes Powell and Mead, and additional combined reductions of 250,000 acre-feet and 200,000 acre-feet at two Lake Mead elevations to Arizona, California and Nevada.

The federal government is expected to evaluate and incorporate the proposal into a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to update operation guidelines originally established in 2007.

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The river originates high in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park and collects water from major tributaries that then flows through a seven-state river system. The basin is split into two regions: The Upper Basin includes Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah; the Lower Basin includes Arizona, Nevada and California.

"We recognize that over the past twenty-plus years there is simply far less water flowing into the Colorado River system than the amount that leaves it, and that we have effectively run out of storage to deplete," the states say in their proposal, pledging continued collaboration with the federal government, water users, Basin tribes and others.

Last year, when the river was confirmed to be at its driest period in 1,200 years, the federal government asked the seven river states to reduce water use by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet. The discussions were hindered by competing priorities and disagreements over the role each state should take in reduction efforts and a consensus was not met.

"I am encouraged today that six states came to an agreement on potential mechanisms to better manage the critical reservoirs on the Colorado River," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis wrote in a statement. "Increased drought, climate change, and overuse has led to less water in our reservoirs. More must be done to protect the system, and although we did not cause this crisis, I am proud that Colorado is part of the solution."

"We forged a common vision that will protect the Colorado River and the 40 million people, and more than 30 Tribes, who rely on it," Bennet said.