Feds call for public contributions to deal with strained Colorado River

Lake Powell is a major water reservoir and hydroelectric power source in the west. The reservoir sits at an elevation of 3,539 feet.

decades drought and overuse has asked Colorado River, and millions of its users, are in dire straits. The Bureau of Reclamation announced Thursday that it is seeking public input into managing the resource, something some Utah officials aren’t too happy about.

The seven river basin states, Mexico and tribal nations are renegotiating how the river will be managed long-term, with the current rules set expire in 2026. They are also examining how to weather the coming months when the system’s largest reservoirs reach critically low levels. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are both about 28% full.

At a Colorado River Authority of Utah At a meeting Thursday, Brian Steed, the state’s executive director for natural resources, said Reclamation’s call for public input made him nervous.

“This was for the states to decide and propose, not the Feds to dictate and shape,” he said. “It worries me that if the FBI frames it, it looks like it’s going the other way.”

The public submission period runs until September 1st. Reclamation officials said in a press release that they are considering beginning the formalism National Environmental Policy Act Process in early 2023 that will help set guidance for the post-2026 period.

“We want to hear from everyone involved with this pool. We intend to develop our next operating rules in an inclusive, transparent manner, drawing on the best available science,” said Carly Jerla, Senior Water Resources Program Manager, in the press release.

This could open “Pandora’s box,” Steed said, and could dampen voices from basin states.

In the short term, federal officials have invoked on basin states commit to unprecedented water conservation efforts. Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said “between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of additional conservation will be needed just to protect critical assets in 2023,” it said KUNC reports. Basin states have 60 days to reach an agreement before the federal government intervenes.

The “nature of the problem” is that water use is not decreasing in the lower basin states, he said Gene Shawcroftthe Colorado River Commissioner for Utah.

“Now me [can’t] Telling them the upper division states will not feel pain, it will happen,” he said. “But despite the pain we feel, we cannot solve the problem. The problems have to be solved in the lower league states.”

The states of the lower basin—Arizona, Nevada, and California—use much of the river for metropolitan areas and irrigation. Some upper basin states—Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico—are still have major water development projects in mindwho say they have used less of their allotment for years.

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