Use Your Voice for Protection and Conservation
Do you love the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River and want to protect it? Are you one of the 40 million Westerners that rely on Colorado River water? If so, then the information below will be important for you, and you have a chance to provide your input on how the Colorado Rivers waters will be appropriated!
The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation released on April 11th a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to potentially revise the current interim operating guidelines for the near-term operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams on the Colorado River.
Why This is Important to AzRA and the Western States
The draft SEIS analyzes alternatives and measures to address potential shortages if such measures are required to protect Glen Canyon and Hoover Dam operations, system integrity, and public health and safety in 2024 through 2026, after which the current operating guidelines expire. It also ensures Reclamation has the tools to protect continued water deliveries and hydropower production. Having updated management with proper water conservation regulations, will ensure the Colorado River will continue to flow through Grand Canyon with adequate flows to protect its ecosystem and recreation.
Arizona Raft Adventures is encouraged that Reclamation has taken this crucial step in planning for a drier West. The Colorado River faces the stresses of climate-driven drought; thus, states and stakeholders must work together towards a collaborative solution to manage water scarcity. This year’s good snowpack and ensuing high river flows is not enough to protect the system and we must prepare for a future with less water. More action is necessary. The draft SEIS calls for short-term actions, but ultimately, the Colorado River will need long-term solutions to protect those that rely on its water.
Hopefully, the burdens associated with managing risks to the Colorado River and its communities that rely on it will be shared across all sectors and by all water users. Additionally, we hope they will consider the concerns of communities, agricultural producers, the sovereignty of Tribes, the importance of a healthy river/riparian ecosystem and Mexico. The seven states involved need to work together to avoid conflict and share equally the burdens associated with reduced river flows. You can learn more about the states involved in our blog about the drought conditions on the Colorado River.
The draft SEIS is designed to guide further negotiation, with the hope that the states will produce some agreements in the next few months. If they cannot, the Department of the Interior says they will step in with a plan, which could be a combination of ideas included in the SEIS. It would be good for the Bureau of Reclamation to know that there is a vast public interest in how the Colorado River is managed in the future.
Options under the Draft SEIS
The Draft SEIS describes three potential choices that affect the 3 lower basin states (AZ, NV and CA) without making a specific recommendation:
1) Do nothing. (This would be a disaster and clearly will not happen, the Feds have made that clear. A SEIS requires that it be listed however.)
2) Action Alternative 1. Impose reductions to Lower Basin state allocations in accordance with the priority system that was developed under the “Law of the Colorado River”. This means California keeps its current highest priority status and does not suffer cuts, but Arizona and Nevada would both have large cuts.
3) Action Alternative 2. Impose reductions to Lower Basin state allocations in equal percentages. This would be a profound change to the current ‘Law of the River’ and one that means California will no longer have “1st rights” to the Colorado River. This seems the most equitable.
No matter which alternatives or decisions are reached regarding reduced allocations to water users, there will be pain and suffering for many. There certainly will be increased costs for food and water, as well as engineering infrastructure improvement costs to improve water conservation. Some communities will be negatively affected. However, with human ingenuity and a concerted effort, it is possible to produce an effective solution, where both humans and the river’s ecosystem can continue to exist together in the southwest.
How YOU Can Help Be a Voice!
If you are a concerned member of the public, please make it known to Reclamation that you are interested in this process. You will have until May 31st to comment on the 3 proposed alternatives. We encourage you to review the information and/or attend the online meetings to become knowledgeable about this critical issue.
A Little Background on the Colorado River Compact’s History
For some background, the antiquated 101-year-old Colorado River Compact is the foundation and the law behind the allocation and use of Colorado River Water. A set of 2007 interim guidelines (which expire in 2026) determine how to allocate Colorado River water in case of shortages. When created over 100 years ago, the Colorado River Compact allotted water to the 7 states. The total amount allocated was based on a lack of data as records had not been kept very long on water flows in the river.Based on the data they had at the time they assumed the Colorado River had more water in its system on average because of several years of higher than average flows. It turns out records over the following years showed that the river averages much less water than the total the Compact allots to all the states. Thus, its current division of water to the states is not attainable in the long-term. Add to that enormous population growth and long-term drought/climate change and the archaic Colorado River Compact is clearly an unfair burden to the Colorado River and most everyone who depends on its water.
Below are Additional Resources to Learn More
Colorado River Dashboard from CAP Great updated graphics
Effects of Drought on Colorado River Rafting in Grand Canyon an Outfitters perspective.