Lawmakers forming bipartisan Colorado River caucus

As Colorado River basin states struggle to come to an agreement over proposed cutbacks to water consumption, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is pushing to evaluate the issue.

An informal group launched by Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) has now expanded to include senators representing the seven Colorado River basin states: California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

Details about the caucus were first reported by CNN on Tuesday but later confirmed to The Hill by a spokesperson for Hickenlooper.

The Colorado senator expressed support for a partnership between the Senate and the states, telling CNN that “there might be additional resources that are needed to really solve this.”

“I think most experts feel this is not just a drought — there is some level of aridification, desertification,” he said.

While talks have just begun, some senators are looking at how they might harness additional financing for water users who could soon face significant reductions, CNN reported.

Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act approved $4 billion in drought relief funds to be distributed to states, tribal nations and farmers.

Another key goal of the new Senate caucus involves helping alleviate tensions between California and the other Colorado River states, CNN reported.

Negotiations among the seven states have been taking place for months, with the goal of reducing usage of an overallocated resource.

The states had agreed to a rough deadline of Jan. 31, aware that the Federal Bureau of Reclamation could impose cuts itself if an agreement failed to come together.

What ended up materializing were two opposing proposals — a joint deal from six out of the seven states, followed by a competing offer from the outlier, California.

The six-state proposal focuses on distributing the burden for evaporation losses that occur when the river flows downstream. As the waterway’s biggest user, California would face the greatest supply cuts in this scenario.

The Golden State’s proposal, which would include greater cutbacks for Arizona than for California, relies on voluntary measures that would serve “to minimize the risk of legal challenge or implementation delay.”

A second Colorado Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet, told CNN he may evaluate the potential of the upcoming farm bill as a tool to secure more funding for Western water conservation programs.

The Biden administration launched another compensation program this fall, allowing select Colorado River users to receive federal funds in return for conserving water.

The senators, Bennet told CNN, will “think about what future funding might look like.”

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