As the Biden Administration initializes a protracted negotiation to apportion the dwindling water supply of the Colorado River, glimmers of hope begin to punctuate the erstwhile gloom.
Last year’s unprecedented winter snowfall arrested the ominous plunge of the river’s levels and resuscitated the nation’s mega-reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell. A marked decline in water consumption by farmers, urban areas, and Native tribes, however, is also a factor.
Colorardo River water consumption records were shattered in Arizona, California, and Nevada, according to officials within these states. The US Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner, Camille Calimlim Touton, validated their claims during a conversation with CNN. She acclaimed the observable impact of these conservation efforts on the reservoirs. With Lake Powell surging by 52 feet since February, and Lake Mead rising by almost 23 feet since November, the effects are manifestly tangible.
A significant element of this turnaround is attributable to last winter’s prolific precipitation, which authorized several replenishments of reservoirs all through the West. In Southern Californian cities like Los Angeles, an increased tap-off from its refilled reservoirs, such as Lake Oroville, has reduced dependence on the Colorado River.
Bill Hasencamp of the Colorado River Resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California ascertained CNN that this year’s utilization of 5.8 million acre-feet essentially meets the annual allocation of 7.5 million acre-feet for the three lower-basin states. A relieved Hasencamp expressed his hopeful outlook towards attaining sustainability, despite the unanticipated wet winter conditions.
Now, with the immediate crisis averted, the states and federal government are shifting focus towards the future. Agendas include the release of a report from the US Bureau of Reclamation, outlining the points of consideration during negotiations with states, tribes, and other water consumers regarding water allocation from the Colorado River over the coming years.
Implications of the climate crisis on the entire basin, recent decades of dry spells, laws of the river guarding priority water rights, water-intensive agriculture—including irrigation of alfalfa for livestock feed—are all topics under consideration. Touton stressed the indubitable need for comprehensive interstate and tribal cooperation. She expressed optimism toward the “partnership” the federal government shares with the basin states and the tribes to prevent future depletion of the reservoir levels.
“Inaction is not an option,” Touton stated. She, like the Biden Harris administration, is resolved to sustain not just the river of tomorrow, but the river of the future.