Utah Rivers Council executive director calls on authorities to drop plans to build the Lake Powell pipeline.
Carson City, Nevada • Small-town farmers, environmentalists and business owners gathered at the Hoover Dam on Thursday to demand a moratorium on the construction of pipelines and dams along the Colorado River that they say would put the 40 million people at risk. people who depend on it as a source of water.
They are pushing for moratoriums as parts of the western United States experience historic drought and warmer temperatures and dry vegetation fuel the wildfires sweeping the region. Federal officials expect to make the first-ever declaration of water scarcity in the Colorado River Basin next month, resulting in cuts in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.
“We’re here to say, ‘To hell with the status quo,’ said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network.
“No more business as usual. Why? Because we fail: it’s clear and simple. We shouldn’t see this tub ring growing like it does, ”he added, pointing to the white stripe that wraps around the perimeter of Lake Mead, marking the old water levels.
Warm temperatures and a shrinking snowpack have reduced the amount of water flowing from the Rocky Mountains through the arid southwestern deserts into the Gulf of California.
Scientists attribute the extreme conditions to a combination of natural weather conditions and man-made climate changes, which have made the West hotter and drier over the past 30 years.
Nearly a century after seven US states split up the river, Lake Mead and Lake Powell – the two man-made reservoirs that store the river’s water – are shrinking faster than expected, causing panic in an area that depends on the river to support 40 million people and an agricultural industry of 5 billion dollars a year.
The United States Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water, dams and reservoirs in 17 states, has released new two-year projections showing more declines expected in larger western reservoirs. The agency began releasing water from the Flaming Gorge reservoir in Wyoming and said on Friday it intended to tap into reservoirs in New Mexico and Colorado in the coming months to prevent the Lake Powell from declining enough to threaten the hydropower generation capacity of the Glen Canyon Dam.
Nevada is expected to be less affected by the water scarcity-related cuts than Arizona because it does not use its full share of river water. In Arizona, farmers will have to rely more on groundwater and leave fields unseeded.
Officials in both states acknowledge the record lows are part of a continuing downward spiral for the river, but assure water users that they have spent years preparing and that they have enough water to do so. in the face of expected population growth and supply farmers.
But those who spoke at the Hoover Dam on Thursday lashed out at water officials and said the agreements reached in 2007 and 2019 did not meet their goal of maintaining the river. They said proponents of projects to facilitate greater water use were unrealistic about the measures needed to ensure the Colorado River continues to provide water and hydropower to cities and farms. of the region.
Utah Rivers Council Executive Director Zach Frankel said state and federal officials should drop plans to build a pipeline to siphon water from Lake Powell to the Sand Hollow Reservoir in southern Utah. He said it was important to ensure that federal infrastructure dollars were not spent on projects that allow for more expensive water use and pointed out that Washington County in Utah – which would benefit from the diversion – uses more water per capita than Las Vegas and Phoenix.
“It is sheer madness that, as the Colorado River reaches its lowest level in recorded history, we are proposing a new diversion of the waters upstream. While the lower pool will go on a diet and reduce its water consumption, we shouldn’t let the upper pool go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, ”he said.
The Imperial Irrigation District, which oversees water in parts of southern California and holds water rights to about 20% of the Colorado River – more than Nevada and Arizona combined – withdrew from the last round of negotiations.
JB Hamby, vice chairman of the district administration board, said it was important that water management policies adopted in the future ensure that rural farming communities – who use the majority of water of the region – do not bear the brunt of the drought so that cities can continue to grow.
“A suburban ‘manifest fate’ threatens the current and future sustainability of this river and the communities that depend on it. We must defend and protect the various benefits of irrigated farmland for the West, the nation and the world – for food production and security, the environment, wildlife conservation, recreation and tourism, and effective management. some water.
Sam Metz is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative corps. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.