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As Colorado River Flows Drop and Tensions Rise, Water Interests Struggle to Find Solutions That All Can Accept
Chorus of experts warn climate change has rendered old assumptions outdated about what the Colorado River can provide, leaving painful water cuts as the only way forward

Photo shows Hoover Dam’s intake towers protruding from the surface of Lake Mead near Las Vegas, where water levels have dropped to record lows amid a 22-year drought. When the Colorado River Compact was signed 100 years ago, the negotiators for seven Western states bet that the river they were dividing would have ample water to meet everyone’s needs – even those not seated around the table.

A century later, it’s clear the water they bet on is not there. More than two decades of drought, lake evaporation and overuse of water have nearly drained the river’s two anchor reservoirs, Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border and Lake Mead near Las Vegas. Climate change is rendering the basin drier, shrinking spring runoff that’s vital for river flows, farms, tribes and cities across the basin – and essential for refilling reservoirs.

The states that endorsed the Colorado River Compact in 1922 – and the tribes and nation of Mexico that were excluded from the table – are now straining to find, and perhaps more importantly accept, solutions on a river that may offer just half of the water that the Compact assumed would be available. And not only are solutions not coming easily, the relationships essential for compromise are getting more frayed.

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Water News You Need to Know

Aquafornia news AccuWeather

Friday Top of the Scroll: Pair of storms to unleash heavy snow, rain across western US into the weekend

Back-to-back storms from the Pacific will take aim at the West into the weekend, with the second and larger storm of the pairing expected to set the stage for severe weather and blizzard conditions in the nation’s midsection next week. The storms will continue to help grow the snowpack throughout the West and deliver needed rainfall as far south as Southern California. The substantial amount of snow piling up in the mountains is crucial. Experts say that a greater snowpack means there will be more snow to melt away in the drier months of the spring and summer. The snowmelt can help boost soil conditions as well as water levels on streams, rivers and water reservoirs. Frequent storms over the past month have helped grow the snowpack substantially in the Sierra Nevada.

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Aquafornia news KUNC - Greeley, Colo.

Some water users could get paid to conserve as Upper Colorado River Basin program gets planned reboot

As climate change continues to shrink the Colorado River’s largest reservoirs, a group of four states that use its water are set to lay out plans to reboot a conservation program. The Upper Colorado River Commission – comprised of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico – plans to announce details of an extended “System Conservation Pilot Program” through which water users could be paid to cut back on their use. The soon-to-be-launched program aims to use a pool of $125 million from the Inflation Reduction Act for payouts to “mitigate the impacts of long-term drought and depleted storage,” according to presentation slides obtained by KUNC.

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Aquafornia news Medford Mail Tribune

Pending Klamath River dam removals celebrated Thursday

The removal of four Klamath River dams, a two-year process that’s planned to begin next spring with full removal in 2024, was celebrated by a series of speakers Thursday at the Iron Gate Fish Hatchery along the river. Speakers included Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, California Rep. Jared Huffmann, Yurok Tribal Chairman Joe James and Karuk Tribal Chairman Russell “Buster” Attebery. At a public session following an hourlong celebration that was closed to the press and public, the six speakers took turns praising a Nov. 17 license surrender order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

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Aquafornia news Washington Post

FEMA flood maps fail to show flood risk of more extreme flooding events

A Washington Post investigation uncovered communities throughout the country where FEMA’s maps are failing to warn Americans about flood risk. As climate change accelerates, it is increasing types of flooding that the maps aren’t built to include. The resulting picture leaves homeowners, prospective buyers, renters and cities in the dark about the potential dangers they face, which insurance they should buy and what kinds of development should be restricted. The examination surveyed extreme flooding events between June and September across the country, by analyzing hundreds of videos and photographs, speaking with local residents, consulting experts, and interviewing local and federal officials.

Online Water Encyclopedia

Aquapedia background Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Map

Wetlands

Sacramento National Wildlife RefugeWetlands are among the most important and hardest-working ecosystems in the world, rivaling rain forests and coral reefs in productivity of life. 

Aquapedia background

Salton Sea

As part of the historic Colorado River Delta, the Salton Sea regularly filled and dried for thousands of years due to its elevation of 237 feet below sea level.

Lake Oroville shows the effects of drought in 2014.

Drought

Drought—an extended period of limited or no precipitation—is a fact of life in California and the West, with water resources following boom-and-bust patterns. During California’s 2012–2016 drought, much of the state experienced severe drought conditions: significantly less precipitation and snowpack, reduced streamflow and higher temperatures. Those same conditions reappeared early in 2021 prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom in May to declare drought emergencies in watersheds across 41 counties in California.

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Important People in California Water History

Read about the history people who played a significant role in the water history of California.