The Mexican Water Treaty of 1944 committed the U.S. to deliver
1.5 million acre-feet of water to Mexico on an annual basis, plus
an additional 200,000 acre-feet under surplus conditions. The
treaty is overseen by the International Boundary and Water
Colorado River water is delivered to Mexico at Morelos Dam,
located 1.1 miles downstream from where the California-Baja
California land boundary intersects the river. The river’s
natural terminus is the Gulf of California in Mexico, but because
of the dams and diversion facilities throughout the Colorado
River Basin, natural flow rarely reaches the Gulf. Water diverted
at Morelos Dam is primarily used to irrigate Mexicali Valley
farmland, and also supplies the cities of Mexicali, Tecate and
Beaches were closed on Tuesday from the Mexico border to
Coronado as rain flushed sewage-contaminated runoff from
Tijuana into the San Diego region. “Things have gotten worse
than ever,” said Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina.
The latest research about the Colorado River is alarming but
also predictable: In a warming world, snowmelt has been
decreasing while evaporation of reservoirs is increasing. Yet
no politician has a plan to save the diminishing Colorado
If you followed the news about the Colorado River for the last
year, you’d think that a political avalanche had swept down
from Colorado’s snow-capped peaks and covered the Southwest
with a blanket of “collaboration” and “river protection.” I
won’t call it fake news, but I will point out errors of
I have long argued that a robust governance network, both
formal and informal, around the management of the Colorado
River provides the necessary conditions for managing the
problems of the river’s overallocation and the increasingly
apparent impacts of climate change. … But as we approach the
negotiation of the next set of Colorado River management rules
– a process already bubbling in the background – it is not hard
to see how my thesis could break down.
The San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board issued an
investigative order in February that requires more monitoring
of sewage-tainted cross-border flows. The order requires the
International Boundary and Water Commission to monitor more
than a dozen locations over an 18-month period.
A handful of protesters marched outside the Mexican Consulate
in Little Italy, protesting cross border sewage flows. They
want Mexico to do more to fix the problem. Polluted water has
routinely flowed from Mexico into the United States since
December. “We feel like we’re not getting heard,” said Mitch
McKay, president of Citizens for Coastal Conservancy.
Climate change has dramatically decreased natural flow in the
Colorado River, jeopardizing the water supply for some 40
million people and millions of acres of farmland, according to
new research from the USGS. The decline is expected to continue
unless changes are made to alleviate global warming and the
impacts of drier, hotter temperatures.
The Colorado River’s average annual flow has declined by nearly
20 percent compared to the last century, and researchers have
identified one of the main culprits: climate change is causing
mountain snowpack to disappear, leading to increased
The State Lands Commission and State Controller pleaded with
the Environmental Protection Agency in a letter Friday asking
for immediate action to stop the flow of 50 million gallons per
day of polluted water into the Tijuana River Valley. That
polluted water flow has created significant and ongoing beach
closures in Imperial Beach and Coronado.
Under a 1944 treaty, Mexico and the United States are supposed
to allow cross-border flows of water to each other, but Mexico
has fallen badly behind and now has to quickly catch up on
payments. … Mexico’s federal government dispatched National
Guard officers to protect the La Boquilla dam Tuesday, but
hundreds of farmers pushed and shoved them back hundreds of
yards in a failed bid to take over the dam’s control room.
With the backing of an unusual mix of local Democrats,
Republicans, Border Patrol agents and environmental groups,
House Democrats leveraged their support for the trade bill —
one of Trump’s highest priorities — to secure the
administration’s rare backing for an environmental project.
Each group played a part.
The U.S.-Mexico border delineates the separation of two
countries, but that doesn’t mean the two sides are completely
isolated from each other. … It’s also why the United States
and Mexico coordinate on public health, and why experts say the
two nations should do more on climate change.
Right now, the April-July runoff is supposed to be 82% of
average. That compares to 145 % of average in 2019, the
second-best runoff season in the past 20 years, says the
federal Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. Despite last
year’s excellent river flows, most experts also say the
Colorado still faces long-term supply issues…
The increasing spills that have polluted the Tijuana River Valley
and ocean off Imperial Beach have resulted in frustration and
anger in recent years, but also triggered broad political
collaboration at the local, state and federal level that has put
the region on the brink of real action.
Along with long-term drought and climate change, the
overcommitment of the Colorado River is a big reason why Lake
Mead has dropped to historic levels in recent years. Fixing it
could be a big problem for Arizona.
When lawmakers in the House of Representatives approved the
Trump administration’s new trade deal with Mexico and Canada
last month, they authorized $300 million to help fix failing
sewer systems that send raw sewage and toxic pollution flowing
into rivers along the U.S.-Mexico border. … But environmental
groups are condemning the new United States-Mexico-Canada
Agreement, or USMCA, saying it fails to establish binding
standards to curb pollution in Mexico’s industrial zones.
In the early years of the 20th century, leaders across the West
had big dreams for growth, all of which were tied to taking
water from the Colorado River and moving it across mountains
and deserts. In dividing up the river, they assigned more water
to users than the system actually produces.
The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada need
to cut total water use by 18% from their 2000-2018 average to
bring Lakes Mead and Powell into a long-term state of balance,
says Brian Richter. Richter is president of the nonprofit group
Sustainable Waters and a former director and chief scientist
for the Nature Conservancy’s Global Water program.
It started with last month’s heavy rains that brought an
unprecedented volume of debris tumbling down Tijuana’s Matadero
Canyon: old mattresses, used furniture, discarded construction
material. That led to a clogged storm drain by the border
fence, authorities said, and the flooding of a nearby sewage
pump station. The resulting pool of trash and
sewage-contaminated water has now been raising fears in San
In theory, a demand management program would pay users to
conserve in the midst of a crisis in order to boost the river’s
big reservoirs. How it would work, who would participate and
how it would be funded are still unanswered questions. Another
concern is how to make the program equitable — so it doesn’t
burden one user over another.
Passing the new North American free trade agreement would mean
millions of dollars to help upgrade sewage infrastructure on
the border, say the agreement’s backers. But an environmental
group and a local organization on the U.S.-Mexico border say
it’s not enough.
This isn’t just a problem for Mexico. These growers are the
custodians of rare varieties of maize that may hold the secret
to more sustainable agriculture. If they lay down their tools,
their crops could begin to vanish.
Federal water managers are about to start reexamining a
12-year-old agreement among Western states that laid down rules
for dealing with potential water shortages along the Colorado
River. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the
Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of
2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline
under the existing agreement.
Federal water managers are about to start reexamining a
12-year-old agreement among Western states that laid down rules
for dealing with potential water shortages along the Colorado
River. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the
Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of
2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline
under the existing agreement.
States in the U.S. West that have agreed to begin taking less
water next month from the drought-stricken Colorado River got
praise and a push for more action Thursday from the nation’s
top water official. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner
Brenda Burman told federal, state and local water managers that
abiding by the promises they made will be crucial to ensuring
that more painful cuts aren’t required.
The new United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement reached
Tuesday commits the federal government to provide $300 million
for the Border Water Infrastructure Program to address
pollution on the U.S.-Mexico border, including the Tijuana
River Valley region, where millions of gallons of raw sewage,
heavy metals and other contaminants regularly flow from Tijuana
to San Diego.
Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will start taking less water from
the Colorado River in January as a hard-fought set of
agreements kicks in to reduce the risk of reservoirs falling to
critically low levels. The two U.S. states agreed to leave a
portion of their water allotments in Lake Mead under a deal
with California called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency
Plan, or DCP…
Tijuana and Rosarito residents may have gotten a brief reprieve
from scheduled water shut-offs, but the delivery of water
throughout Baja California is a vulnerable system in need of
urgent repairs, state and water officials stressed this week.
Elected leaders from across South Bay San Diego announced
Tuesday a joint effort aimed at pressuring the federal
government to support a long-term fix to the sewage pollution
that routinely flows over the border from Tijuana, fouling
beaches as far north as Coronado.
As conventional wisdom has it, the states were relying on bad
data when they divided up the water. But a new book challenges
that narrative. Turn-of-the-century hydrologists actually had a
pretty good idea of how much water the river could spare, water
experts John Fleck and Eric Kuhn write in Science be Dammed:
How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River.
They make the case that politicians and water managers in the
early 1900s ignored evidence about the limits of the river’s
Through a variety of panel discussions, presentations and a
showcase of student research, the Re:Border conference is
exploring how San Diego State University and its regional
partners can contribute to innovative solutions for
water-related challenges in the transborder region.
Native American tribes, environmentalists, state and federal
agencies, river rafters and others say they have significant
concerns about proposals to dam a Colorado River tributary in
northern Arizona for hydropower.
A bi-national conference at San Diego State University was
aimed at analyzing water resources in the Baja California and
San Diego border region where challenges include cross-border
pollution and water scarcity… Experts at the Reborder 2019
conference discussed ways to improve regional access to “a
secure and reliable water supply” through wastewater treatment
Water shutoffs aren’t uncommon in the growing cities of Tijuana
and Rosarito. But they’re rarely announced beforehand, and
they’re often isolated to certain neighborhoods after pipes or
pumps fail. Earlier this month, however, Tijuana officials
announced that it was planning wide-ranging shutoffs for the
next two months, in an attempt to replenish a vital reservoir
that is perilously low.
Ambiguity exists in the language of the river’s foundational
document, the Colorado River Compact. That agreement’s language
remains unclear on whether Upper Basin states, where the
Colorado River originates, are legally obligated to deliver a
certain amount of water over a 10-year period to those in the
Lower Basin: Arizona, California, and Nevada.
The problem in the 1920s was neither the lack of good science
nor the inability of decision-makers to understand the basin’s
hydrology. … In an era driven by politics of competition for
a limited supply of river water and federal dollars, those
decision-makers had the opportunity to selectively use the
available science as a tool to sell their projects and vision
for the river’s future to Congress and the general public.
Arizona’s portion of the Drought Contingency Plan became a
unique example in the basin of tribal leaders asserting
themselves in broader discussions about the river’s management.
… With the drought plan done, some tribal leaders say their
water rights can’t be ignored any longer.
Here’s the nut: Water supply in the Colorado River could drop
so far in the next decade that the ability of the Upper
Colorado River Basin states – Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New
Mexico – to meet their legal obligations to downstream users in
Nevada, Arizona, California, and Mexico would be in grave
Starting Monday, authorities in Tijuana and Rosarito will
ration water for the next two months because of a limited
supply, according to the Baja California Public Service
Commission. Roughly 140,000 households and business in the
border cities will go without water service for up to 36 hours
every four days.
Jaime Bonilla was sworn into office Friday as governor of
California’s neighboring Mexican state. … In his first major
speech since taking office, Governor Bonilla promised to
address poverty, public safety issues and end cross-border
sewage flows within six months. Bonilla, a dual U.S.-Mexico
citizen, formerly served as an elected member of the Otay Water
District in Chula Vista.
It was on the Colorado River that González, now 82, taught her
children, just like her parents and grandparents taught her, to
fish with canoes and traps made from willow trees which
flourished on the riverbanks. Now, the river stops at the
US-Mexico border and the lakes are dry and native vegetation is
confined to reforestation projects.
The Senate approved almost $20 million in funding to address
sewage flows along the border. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who
secured language in three different appropriations bills for
the 2020 fiscal year, called the spills that send millions of
gallons of raw sewage from Tijuana to San Diego,
Pulling weeds is not usually a great way to start a party. But
filling a dumpster with invasive species was just the right
activity to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Tijuana River
Action Month on Saturday.
Lake Powell’s long decline may be on hiatus after this year’s
snowy winter, but activists still are raising concerns that
climate change could render Glen Canyon Dam inoperable. This
time, they are taking their concerns to court, asking a federal
judge to invalidate the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s 20-year
operating plan for the towering dam..
We now have an opportunity to build on the successful Arizona
process that led to the DCP signing. Arizona is stronger
together. And that will serve us well as we work toward the
next step – maintaining a stable, healthy Colorado River system
as we face a hotter and drier future.
The United States-Mexico border region is enduring the latest
in a series of massive cross-border sewage tainted spills.
Federal officials in charge of monitoring the trans-border
sewage situation on the U.S. side of the border said nearly 8
million gallons of tainted water flowed across the border in
the Tijuana River channel.
Senate Bill No. 690 seeks to reduce exposure to dangerous
pathogens, limit beach closures and address water quality
issues in the Tijuana River Valley. The bill will also allow a
$15 million budget allocation for cleanup efforts as well as
prioritizing projects that will address water quality, flood
control, trash and sediment.
The mayor of this beach town, which abuts Tijuana, Mexico at a
point that is visible by a border wall marking the two
countries, is fed up with sewage and toxic chemicals flowing
into the United States, and he is heading to Washington, D.C.,
to ask the Trump administration to do something about it.
Tijuana’s sewage system appears to be incapable of handling the
sewage generated in the Mexican city, and Imperial Beach Mayor
Serge Dedina called the situation unacceptable. Dedina hoped to
get the attention of President Donald Trump, who is in San
Diego on Wednesday for a fundraiser.
The Colorado River Basin’s 20 years of drought and the dramatic
decline in water levels at the river’s key reservoirs have
pressed water managers to adapt to challenging conditions. But
even more extreme — albeit rare — droughts or floods that could
overwhelm water managers may lie ahead in the Basin as the
effects of climate change take hold, say a group of scientists.
I’ve spent half a day tormented by a problem that has already
tormented me many times before in my career: Where can one find
a Colorado River Basin map that is accurate? It seems like such
a simple task, but as others have noted before, it is an
ongoing problem. The list of problem areas is long, and many
seem to have a strong political motivation.
However, this is brackish water. For a few months we will see
it in the Colorado below Morelos Dam, reminding us of the river
that once flowed there. It is agricultural drainage that comes
from farms in southwestern Arizona that use the Colorado River
to irrigate in the desert.
The only bi-national financial institution dedicated to funding
environmental infrastructure projects along the border unveiled
six possible solutions to slowing down the cross-border sewage
spills that routinely shut down southern San Diego’s beaches.
Water users in the Colorado River Basin have survived the
drought through a combination of water storage infrastructure
and voluntary actions to protect reservoir storage and water
supply. Adoption of drought contingency plans this summer,
developed over years of collaborative negotiation, takes the
next step by implementing mandatory action to reduce risk and
protect limited water supplies.
ASU Now spoke to Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for
Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy,
about the cutbacks and what they will mean for Arizona’s
agriculture and the state’s roughly 7 million residents.
The Colorado is the most significant water supply source in the
West, but it carries an annual salt load of nine to 10 million
tons, said Don Barnett, executive director of the Colorado
River Basin Salinity Control Forum. … For the past 40 years,
the the forum has been “silently working away” at improving
water quality and lowering salt content on the Colorado, which
supplies water to 40 million people in seven states and Mexico.
Rocky Mountain water managers worried about climate-driven
depletion across the Colorado River Basin are mulling a “grand
bargain” that would overhaul obligations among seven
southwestern states for sharing the river’s water. This
reflects rising concerns that dry times could turn disastrous.
Just a few months after completing the Drought Contingency Plan
for the Colorado River states, water managers in the southwest
will likely have to implement it starting in 2020. That’s
according to new projections for the levels of key reservoirs
in the southwestern river basin, and Arizona is first in line
to take water cutbacks.
Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will be required to take less water
from the Colorado River for the first time next year under a
set of agreements that aim to keep enough water in Lake Mead to
reduce the risk of a crash.
With big western cities clamoring for a share of the
river’s diminishing supply, desert farmers with valuable claims
are making multimillion dollar deals in a bid to delay the
inevitable. … But if the river’s water keeps
falling, more radical measures will be needed to protect
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Thursday will release its
projections for next year’s supply from Lake Mead, a key
reservoir that feeds Colorado River water to Nevada, Arizona,
California and Mexico. After a wet winter, the agency is not
expected to require any states to take cuts to their share of
water. But that doesn’t mean conditions are improving long
The recently adopted Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) was an
important step toward addressing the Colorado Basin’s chronic
water shortages, but more work is needed to prepare for a
hotter, drier future. We talked to Doug Kenney, director of the
Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado and
a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network,
about managing the basin for long-term water sustainability.
Customs and Border Protection commissioned a six-month study,
published earlier this year, of 42 samples from the river and
two culverts during dry, wet, post-rain, and standing water
conditions. … Justin Castrejon, a Border Patrol agent and
regional spokesman, said the report validated the claims of
agents who have complained of physical health ailments after
patrolling the affected areas.
San Diego County officials are finalizing a list of projects
that could help fix the region’s sewage problems. Sewage flows
from Tijuana regularly foul San Diego’s ocean waters. That
prompted the state, the Port of San Diego, a clean water group
and several municipalities to sue the federal government to fix
The solution lies in filling the sea with water. But what
source would produce enough water to cover the lakebed (playa)
years into future years? Where would we get such huge
quantities of fresh or salt water? There is but one realistic
source: the Sea of Cortez.
Described in a comprehensive new study published Wednesday in
the journal Science Advances, scientists now understand the
causes of the megadroughts common during the medieval period.
With climate change, they predict more megadroughts in the
Water managers on the Colorado River are facing a unique
moment. With a temporary fix to the river’s scarcity problem
recently completed, talk has begun to turn toward future
agreements to manage the water source for 40 million people in
the southwestern U.S. … Some within the basin see a window of
opportunity to argue for big, bold actions to find balance in
Today, Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-51) along with Reps. Susan Davis
(CA-53), Scott Peters (CA-52), and Mike Levin (CA-49), hosted a
press conference to announce the introduction of their Tijuana
River Valley Pollution Solution bill package. The combined
legislation would further support mitigation efforts in the
The state drought plans move gingerly toward encouraging
transfers of water by using clever euphemisms that avoid any
mention of water marketing. … These euphemisms are tools that
usher in a new frontier in western water law that will increase
resilience in the face of droughts, floods and forest fires
fueled by climate change.
In black and white, John Trotter documents the use of water
from the Colorado River, tackling the social, political, and
environmental impact of the way it’s dealt with. Spanning over
years and kilometres, his ongoing essay is a dire political
The plan is historic: It acknowledges that southwestern states
need to make deep water use reductions – including a large
share from agriculture, which uses over 70% of the supply – to
prevent Colorado River reservoirs from declining to critically
low levels. But it also has serious shortcomings. It runs for
less than a decade. And its name suggests a response to a
Despite being on opposite sides of the immigration debate,
environmental groups who oppose border barriers generally
mirror cattle rancher John Ladd’s concerns about the river.
They say a wall or fence across the San Pedro could have
devastating consequences to its hydrology, as well as the
endangered species that call the river home.
Only one undammed river in the American Southwest still flows
freely, and it begins just south of the border, in Sonora,
Mexico. From there, the San Pedro River courses north into
Arizona, a rare and unbarricaded corridor that is a haven and
vital water source for a vast array of plants and wildlife…
The unusually wet winter (with an assist from new Colorado
River Drought Contingency Plan water reduction rules) has
substantially reduced the near-term scare-the-crap-out-of-me
risks on the Colorado River for the next few years, according
to new Bureau of Reclamation modeling.
From sea to shining sea may take on a new meaning in
California, as state officials are reviewing billion dollar
plans to import water from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez to help raise
water levels at the Salton Sea.
In the long-term puzzle of ensuring that the Colorado River —
the main artery of the American West — provides water to the
millions of people in the basin who depend on it, the
challenges are mounting. Does 2019’s water stand a chance of
making a meaningful impact? Water experts say the answer is:
Sadly, not likely.
Most of the seven states that get water from the Colorado River
have signed off on plans to keep the waterway from crashing
amid a prolonged drought, climate change and increased demands.
But California and Arizona have not, missing deadlines from the
Rather than unquestioningly celebrating Powell and his legacy,
this year gives us the chance to think about a couple of
points: First, how are we telling Powell’s story now, and how
have we told it in the past? Is it, and has it been, accurate
and useful? Second, whose stories have we excluded, ignored,
and forgotten about in the focus on Powell?
I ran down a quick summary this morning of the relevant data,
comparing recent use with the cuts mandated under the DCP. It
shows that, at this first tier of shortage, permitted use is
less than the voluntary cuts water users have been making since
2015. In other words, all of the states are already
using less water than contemplated in this first tier of DCP
The Colorado River just got a boost that’s likely to prevent
its depleted reservoirs from bottoming out, at least for the
next several years. Representatives of seven Western states and
the federal government signed a landmark deal on Monday laying
out potential cuts in water deliveries through 2026 to reduce
the risks of the river’s reservoirs hitting critically low
The Colorado River — of which the Green is the biggest
tributary — is the main water source for 40 million people.
It’s already overallocated, and climate change is predicted to
shrink flows by up to 50 percent by the end of the century.
We’re finally coming to grips with those forecasts and
beginning to heed Powell’s century-and-a-half-old warnings. But
it’s taken drought and desperation to get us there, and we have
to do better.
After months of tense, difficult negotiations, a plan to spread
the effects of anticipated cutbacks on the drought-stricken
Colorado River is nearing completion. On Monday,
representatives of the seven states that rely on the river will
gather for a formal signing ceremony at Hoover Dam, the real
and symbolic center of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency
It takes more than one wet year to not only refill reservoirs
but also recharge aquifers and return moisture in parched soils
to normal levels. … All this upstream snowpack and rain is
predicted to boost Powell to 47% of capacity by the end of the
year, another three or four feet, but there’ll still be plenty
of the “bathtub ring” visible. It’s been 36 years since Powell
was full. It’s not likely it’ll ever fill again.
Stakeholders throughout the Colorado River Basin just wrapped
up arduous negotiations on a drought plan. There’s little time
to rest, however. Stakeholders are expected to begin the even
more difficult task of hammering out sweeping new guidelines
for delivering water and sharing shortages that could
re-imagine how the overworked river is managed.
This river provides water for one-third of Latinos in the
United States. Latinos make up the bulk of agricultural workers
harvesting the produce this river waters. We boat, fish, swim
and recreate along its banks. We hold baptisms in its waters.
Therefore, it is critical to engage the growing Latino
population on water-smart solutions.
The DCP … provides assurance against curtailments for water
stored behind Hoover Dam. This is especially important for the
Southern California water agencies, whose ability to store
water in Lake Mead is crucial for managing seasonal demands.
Some significant challenges must still be addressed, however.
People who live along the southern border all say the same
thing: When it rains, it stinks. The reason is a failing, aging
network of pipes that run from Mexico to wastewater treatment
plants in the U.S. When heavy rains fall, the pipes often break
and spill raw sewage on both sides of the border, causing not
only a putrid odor but public health and environmental
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water
deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a
multiyear drought, were designed to prevent disputes that could
provoke conflict. … But as the time for crafting a new set of
rules draws near, some river veterans suggest the result will
be nothing less than a dramatic re-imagining of how the
overworked Colorado River is managed…
According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the snowpack in the
Upper Basin is nearly 140% above average as of April 15 and it
forecasts that seasonal inflow to Lake Powell will be at 128%
of average. … “These developments may lessen the chance of
shortage in 2020,” Terry Fulp, BOR’s Lower Colorado regional
director, said in a prepared statement.
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water
deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a
multi‐year drought, were designed to prevent disputes that
could provoke conflict. But as the time for crafting a new set
of rules draws near, some river veterans suggest the result
will be nothing less than a dramatic re-imagining of how the
overworked Colorado River is managed…
The giant reservoir, formed by Glen Canyon Dam, was under 40
percent full the last week of April. And a lot of water is
still being released from the reservoir, more demands on the
water are expected, and the water supply above the reservoir,
in the sprawling Colorado River system, is expected to
DCP puts safeguards in place to help manage water use now and
better deal with a potential shortage. Utah, Arizona and the
five other Colorado River basin states wisely chose to include
conservation measures in the DCP — and shared in their
sacrifice to avoid costly litigation and imposed cuts. Congress
and the states should be commended for this bipartisan,
A group of Democratic senators and San Diego County-based
congressional representatives sent a letter to multiple federal
agencies Tuesday urging them to address sewage runoff in the
Tijuana River … Local and state officials as well as
environmental activists have decried the condition of the
Tijuana River for years, which regularly causes beach closures
along the county’s coastline, particularly after heavy rain.
Some lawyers say the Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, may be
built on shaky legal ground and could be vulnerable to
litigation — depending on how the Bureau of Reclamation
implements it. One California water district has already sued
to block it.
The Colorado River Sustainability Campaign has been an
important behind-the-scenes player for environmentalists
working on the waterway, which provides water to 40 million
people. … When asked who funds his project, Sam Tucker listed
five foundations. Those foundations’ grant databases showed
that his campaign has received at least $8.6 million since
2016. … Almost half — $4 million — of the campaign’s money
came from one source: the Walton Family Foundation. (Second of
Arizona’s top water official says a lawsuit filed Tuesday by
California’s Imperial Irrigation District could pose a threat
to the newly approved multistate drought contingency plan. But
Tom Buschatzke, director of the Department of Water Resources,
said he’s not worried the plan will fall apart — at least not
The petition, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court,
alleges violations of the California Environmental Quality
Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California,
and names the Coachella Valley, Palo Verde and
Needles water districts as well. It asks the court to
suspend the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until a
thorough environmental analysis has been completed.
There are at least six high-profile projects in Utah, Colorado,
and Wyoming that combined could divert more than 300,000
acre-feet of water from the beleaguered Colorado River. That’s
the equivalent of Nevada’s entire allocation from the river.
These projects are in different stages of permitting and
funding, but are moving ahead even as headlines about the
river’s dwindling supply dominate the news.
An unlikely advocate seems to be around every bend of the
Colorado River these days: the Walton Family Foundation. The
$3.65 billion organization launched by Walmart founder Sam
Walton has become ubiquitous in the seven-state basin that
provides water to 40 million people, dishing out $100 million
in grants in the last five years alone. … The foundation’s
reach is dizzying and, outside the basin, has received scant
attention. (First of two parts.)
A new study released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts
a release of up to 9 million acre-feet of water from Lake
Powell to Lake Mead this year, which means a possible shortage
declaration looming in 2020 might be averted. The snowpack in
the Colorado River Basin is about 130 percent of average, with
flows into Lake Powell predicted to be 128 percent of average
during the runoff season.
President Donald Trump signed a bill Tuesday authorizing a plan
for Western states to take less water from the overburdened
Colorado River. The president’s signing capped a years-long
process of sometimes difficult negotiations among the seven
states that rely on the river. … Next, representatives from
Arizona and the other Colorado River basin states who had a
hand in crafting the deal are expected to meet for a formal
Residents are concerned a proposed project aimed at tackling
the pollution problem in the Tijuana River Valley will
ultimately negatively affect them. … Some residents voiced
they are not happy to hear about a proposal to build what they
have dubbed a “sewage pond” near their homes.
Here’s something worth celebrating: In a rare bipartisan
resolve to prevent a water crisis in the Southwest, Congress
has authorized a plan to reduce consumption from the Colorado
River – a major conservation milestone. It shows that when we
work together as Americans, we can address some of the biggest
challenges facing our nation today.
Congress passed an historic Colorado River drought deal on
Monday, which is now on its way to President Trump’s desk for
his signature. That leaves Arizona back to wrestling with water
issues that it mostly set aside during the two years it fixated
on the negotiations for the Colorado River deal.
Zig-zagging around us, among the trees, is a sprawling network
of irrigation ditches. It’s almost laid out like a farm.
Instead of the food crops grown all around this site,
Schlatter’s team grows trees and willows, prime habitat for
birds, coyotes, frogs and other wildlife. The whole site only
receives water a couple times a year.
All this reliance on an overallocated river has left its final
hundred miles as the ultimate collateral damage. Since the
early 1960s, when Glen Canyon Dam impounded the river near
Page, Arizona, it has rarely reached the Pacific Ocean. The
thread is frayed beyond recognition, leaving no water for the
The wetland is fed by a concrete canal that removes drainage
water from American farms across the border in Arizona. … But
there’s a problem. As the Colorado River basin heats up and
dries out like climate projections predict, Juan Butrón-Méndez
is concerned people will stop thinking of the water that flows
to the wetland as waste, find a way to use it and, in turn,
harm the Ciénega.
A bill that would authorize the federal government to enact a
drought plan for Colorado River basin states in times of
shortage has passed Congress and is on its way to the White
House for the president’s signature. … Its aim is to
protect water users from deep losses and keep the
reservoirs and river healthy.
An increasing number of solutions to California and Arizona’s
long-term water problems now involve Mexico. Some of the ideas
are seemingly far-fetched, like a pipeline to bring water from
the Gulf of California to the Salton Sea in Imperial County.
Some are already happening, like Mexico agreeing to reduce its
water use in the event of a Colorado River shortage. … That
stands in contrast not only to recent threats by President
Donald Trump to shut down the border, but some existing water
Tohono O’odham Chairman Edward D. Manuel testified Thursday
that lack of water has been killing crops and livestock – and,
essentially, the tribe’s economy – and things will only get
worse if federal funding is allowed to lapse. That’s why Manuel
joined officials from other tribes, utilities and advocacy
groups to urge passage of a bill by Rep. Raul Grijalva,
D-Tucson, that would make permanent a federal fund used to help
the government meet its obligations under legal settlements
over water-rights issues.
Mexican and American officials met in Mexico City this week to
talk about fixing a costly set of problems that have sprung up
along the border: failing sewer systems that send raw sewage
spilling into rivers. … Roberto Salmón, Mexico’s commissioner
of the International Boundary and Water Commission, said border
cities from Tijuana to Matamoros need a total of about 10
billion pesos, or $520 million, “just to bring the sanitary
systems up to speed, to correct the problems.”
On the first morning of a water conference in downtown Phoenix
on Friday, an academic expert spoke of aridification in the
Colorado River basin due to the ill effects of humans burning
fossil fuels. After dinner, a writer of vivid predictive
fiction spoke about his book “The Water Knife,” which describes
Phoenix in a dusty and water-starved river basin, in the
Two members of Arizona’s congressional delegation introduced
legislation Tuesday on a plan to address a shrinking supply of
water from a river that serves 40 million people in the U.S.
West. Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democratic Rep. Raul
Grijalva vowed to move identical bills quickly through the
chambers. Bipartisan lawmakers from Colorado River basin states
signed on as co-sponsors.
A plan to divvy up cutbacks to Colorado River water in times of
shortage has passed its first two tests in Congress. On
Thursday, a House subcommittee endorsed the Drought Contingency
Plan after questioning the state and federal officials who
crafted it. Thursday’s approval came a day after a Senate
subcommittee endorsed the plan. Next, lawmakers in both
chambers will have to negotiate and vote on bills that would
allow the federal government to carry out the plan.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally vowed Wednesday to take quick action
on a plan to preserve the drought-stricken Colorado River,
which serves about 40 million people in the U.S. West and
Mexico. … The plans that have been in the works for years got
a first congressional hearing Wednesday before a subcommittee
that McSally chairs. The Arizona Republican said she’ll
introduce a bill soon and expects strong support.
The agreement represents the first multistate effort in
more than a decade to readjust the collective rules for
dealing with potential shortages. … But even as the drought
agreement has earned widespread praise as a historic step
toward propping up the river’s reservoirs, Arizona’s plan for
implementing the deal has also drawn criticism for relying on a
strategy that some argue has significant drawbacks.
In recent days, there have been contentions that the DCP has
left a major factor out of the equation: the Salton Sea,
California’s largest inland lake. But this simply is not the
case. … The Imperial Irrigation District has yet to sign on
to the DCP. The DCP has an on-ramp for IID’s participation if
they change their minds. But with or without IID’s
participation, the DCP will not adversely impact the Salton
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman commended
Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and
Wyoming for reaching a consensus on the Colorado River drought
contingency plan. Now the states are seeking approval from
Congress to implement it.
On this edition of Your Call’s One Planet Series, veteran
environmental journalist Jim Robbins joins us to talk about his
in-depth series headlined, “The West’s Great River Hits Its
Limits: Will the Colorado Run Dry?”
The Colorado River Basin was already running near empty before
the Trump administration approved a new deal allowing
additional extractions from one of its main tributaries. While
the administration found the deal would not have a significant
impact on the environment surrounding the river, a collection
of environmental groups say in a new federal lawsuit that it
will further deplete the river basin’s supply…
What image comes to mind when you think of Lake Mead? For most,
it’s likely the infamous “bathtub ring,” a troubling sign of
the depleted water supply in this life-sustaining reservoir.
But while this is one of the most frequently deployed images
associated with the decades long “drought” in the West, do we
really see it? Does it make an impact that’s strong enough to
shift our perceptions and motivate us to alter our personal
In the coming days, Congress will begin committee hearings on
unusually concise, 139-word legislation that would allow the
secretary of the interior to implement the Colorado River
Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP. … This agreement marks a
watershed moment in building our country’s resilience to
SDSU researchers examine the effects of shrinking water
supplies in the Imperial-Mexicali Valley: The problems there
are as old as the urbanization of Southern California:
insufficient water to meet community demands and ecosystem
needs. The solutions, which could figure into future
policy-making, are both increasingly high-tech and surprisingly
Representatives of seven states finished a landmark agreement
to shore up the dwindling Colorado River and signed a letter to
Congress on Tuesday calling for legislation to enact the deal.
The set of agreements would prop up water-starved reservoirs
that supply cities and farms across the Southwest and would lay
the groundwork for larger negotiations to address the river’s
It’s done. The Colorado River Board of California voted 8-1-1
Monday to sign on to a multi-state drought contingency plan,
which, somewhat ironically, might not be needed for two years
because of an exceptionally wet winter. The Imperial Irrigation
District, a sprawling rural water district in the southeastern
corner of California, refused to sign on until the federal
government pledged to provide $200 million to clean up the
Salton Sea, which has not occurred.
For the moment, Mother Nature is smiling on the Colorado River.
Enough snow has piled up in the mountains that feed the river
to stave off a dreaded shortage declaration for one more year,
according to federal projections released Friday afternoon.
As the Trump administration moves toward a drought contingency
plan for the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation is
pushing legislation that would exempt its work from
environmental reviews. That includes potential impacts on what
has emerged as a major sticking point in the drought
negotiations: Southern California’s Salton Sea, a public health
and ecological disaster.
If, as being widely reported, the Colorado River basin states
… ultimately decide to proceed with a Lower Colorado River
Basin Drought Contingency Plan that cuts out the Imperial
Irrigation District (IID), no one should be surprised. It’s
simply continuing a long, and perhaps successful, tradition of
basin governance by running over the “miscreant(s)”.
For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her
energy to issues associated with management of the Colorado
River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the
Colorado River Commission of Nevada. Now her career is taking a
different direction. Harkins was appointed last August to take
the helm of the United States section of the International
Boundary and Water Commission, the U.S.-Mexico agency that
oversees myriad water matters between the two countries…
The Imperial Irrigation District is being written out of a
massive, multi-state Colorado River drought plan at the
eleventh hour. IID could sue to try to stop the revised plan
from proceeding, and its board president called the latest
development a violation of California environmental law.
But Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said
attorneys for his agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and
others in a working group are finalizing new documents to
remove IID from the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
For the bulk of her career, Jayne
Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the
management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.
Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was
appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the
United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees
myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to
sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado
River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other
rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be
named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and
Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the
commission’s 129-year history.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on
Tuesday sealed California’s participation in a landmark
Colorado River drought management plan, agreeing to shoulder
more of the state’s future delivery cuts to prevent Lake Mead
from falling to dangerously low levels. With California signed
on, the plan can move to Congress, which must approve the
multi-state agreement before it takes effect. The MWD board
took the step over the objections of the Imperial
Irrigation District, which holds senior rights to the biggest
allocation of river water on the entire length of the Colorado.
The Metropolitan Water District is positioning itself to
shoulder California’s entire water contribution, with its board
voting Tuesday on a proposal to essentially write out of the
drought plan another agency that gets more Colorado River water
than anyone else. That agency, the Imperial Irrigation
District, has said it won’t approve the plan unless the federal
government agrees to commit $200 million to address the Salton
California is now the lone holdout on an emergency drought plan
for the Colorado River, and the other river states are turning
up the heat to get the deal done. Representatives from Nevada
and five other Western states sent a letter to California on
Saturday urging water officials there to set aside their
concerns and “and immediately and unconditionally approve” the
so-called Drought Contingency Plan.
The Colorado River’s federal managers have projected that if
dry conditions continue, they could be unable to deliver any
water at all to downstream users (including Phoenix, Tucson,
Los Angeles, and San Diego) within five years. That’s the
doomsday scenario that has led the Colorado River’s water
managers and users to the cusp of adopting the Drought
Contingency Plan, a temporary yet broad agreement to reduce
water use and ensure that the reservoirs continue to provide a
reliable water supply.
With another deadline missed Monday, the head of the Bureau of
Reclamation is now looking for the governors in the states in
the Colorado River basin to tell her what they think she should
do to keep water levels from dropping even lower. But there’s
just two weeks for them to do that.
Days after Imperial Irrigation District officials said there
had been a breakthrough in negotiations with federal
officials to commit to the restoration of the Salton Sea
in a mammoth Colorado River drought plan, a top federal
official offered a different assessment. … The
Reclamation statement said it’s up to IID to decide when they
want to join the drought plan, indicating a possible avenue for
them to join later that would not stymie the entire agreement.
Winter storms have blanketed the mountains on the upper
Colorado River with snow. But even this year’s above-average
snowpack won’t be nearly enough to make up for the river’s
chronic overallocation, compounded by 19 years of drought and
the worsening effects of climate change.
With a Monday deadline looming, the Metropolitan Water District
of Southern California has offered to break an impasse on a
seven-state Colorado River drought contingency package by
contributing necessary water from its own reserves on behalf of
the Imperial Irrigation District. It’s not help that IID is
seeking, but Metropolitan general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger
said he had no choice.
Follow along on our water tour of the Lower Colorado
River – and keep up with any of our
tours and events –
through our social media channels. We’ll post updates on our
Twitter account @WaterEdFdn about
people, issues and places as we travel along the Lower Colorado
River from Hoover Dam to the Coachella Valley Feb. 27 through
All eyes have been on the Colorado River recently with
headlines across the west announcing the progress – or lack
thereof – of the efforts of the seven basin states to reach
agreement on the Drought Contingency Plan. So is the Colorado
River in crisis? At the 2019 California Irrigation Institute
conference, Dr. Brad Udall’s keynote presentation focused on
answering that question.
During the past two decades, the federal government’s spending
on sewer projects along the U.S.-Mexico border has declined
dramatically. The decrease in funding has left a long list of
needed sewer fixes unbuilt, while raw sewage and industrial
pollution have continued to pour into the New River, the
Tijuana River and other rivers that flow across the border.
Now, Congress has started to put more money toward combating
water pollution on the border.
Arizona’s efforts to finish a Colorado River drought plan are
moving forward after leaders of the Gila River Indian
Community announced that they will proceed with their
piece of the deal. … The Gila River Indian Community’s
involvement is key because the community is entitled to about a
fourth of the water that passes through the Central Arizona
Project Canal, and it has offered to kick in some water to make
the drought agreement work.
The furrows in a 60-acre patch of dirt on Rodney and Tiffany
Shedd’s Arizona farm still hold cotton scraps from last year’s
crop. This year, that patch will stay barren for the first time
in recent memory, thanks to the decline in Colorado River water
for farms across Pinal County, one of America’s cotton-growing
The odds are looking increasingly poor that Arizona and other
Western states will meet a March 4 federal deadline for
wrapping up Colorado River drought plans. That’s not just
because of the ongoing conflict over a now-shelved water rights
bill for Eastern Arizona that prompted a threat from the Gila
River Indian Community to bolt this state’s drought plan. It’s
also not just because of a Southern California irrigation
district’s efforts to secure $200 million in U.S. funds to
shore up the dying Salton Sea.
Rising temperatures can lower flow by increasing the amount of
water lost to evaporation from soil and surface water, boosting
the amount of water used by plants, lengthening the growing
season, and shrinking snowpacks that contribute to flow via
meltwater. … The researchers found that rising
temperatures are responsible for 53% of the long-term decline
in the river’s flow, with changing precipitation patterns and
other factors accounting for the rest.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers on Tuesday withdrew his bill that
would repeal state laws on when farmers forfeit their water
rights — legislation that the Gila River Indian Community said
would cause it to withdraw from the multi-state drought
contingency plan. But Bowers’ move did not get the tribe to
sign the papers agreeing to provide Arizona with the 500,000
acre-feet of water it needs to make the drought plan a reality.
As awful as the constant spills from Tijuana’s broken sewage
infrastructure have been for the Tijuana River and the San
Diego County-Baja California coast, new information suggests
they’re an even scarier health threat than previously thought.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey steered away from the term “climate
change” in order to garner political support for the
state’s Colorado River drought plan, he indicated Friday in an
interview with a Pima Community College newspaper. In that
interview, he also avoided making any connection between
climate change and the “drier future” (his preferred phrase)
that Arizona faces. His omission bordered on a denial of the
established links between the two.
The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by
reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving
ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to
revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat
for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.
The strategy of turning to groundwater pumping will
test the limits of Arizona’s regulatory system for its desert
aquifers, which targets some areas for pumping
restrictions and leaves others with looser rules or no
regulation at all. In Pinal County, which falls under
these groundwater rules, the return to a total reliance on
wells reflects a major turning point and raises the possibility
that this part of Arizona could again sink into a pattern
of falling groundwater levels — just as it did decades
ago, before the arrival of Colorado River water.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said
in a statement Thursday that a decision by House Speaker Rusty
Bowers to move forward with a contentious water bill threatens
the community’s plan to support the drought agreement. The
Gila River Indian Community’s involvement is key because it’s
entitled to about a fourth of the Colorado River water that
passes through the Central Arizona Project’s canal.
It’s all up to the Imperial Irrigation District. The fate of a
seven-state plan to address dwindling Colorado River water
supply now appears to rest squarely with the sprawling
southeastern California water district. Its neighbor to the
north, the Coachella Valley Water District, voted unanimously
on Tuesday to approve interstate agreements that would conserve
water for use by 40 million people and vast swaths of
For generations, residents of the Southern California border
town of Calexico watched with trepidation as their river turned
into a cesspool, contaminated by the booming human and
industrial development on the other side of the border in
Mexico. As Washington debates spending billions to shore
up barriers along the 2,000-mile southwest border, many
residents in California’s Imperial Valley feel at least some of
that money could be spent to address the region’s public health
The Imperial Irrigation District holds among the oldest and
largest rights to water from the Colorado River and is using
that as leverage to get what it sees as a better deal in
current drought contingency plan negotiations involving states
that draw from the river. Among the hardball tactics IID
is putting in play: A demand that the federal government
provide $200 million for efforts to bolster the beleaguered
The Colorado river crisis ought to be upsetting markets. The
U.S. waterway supports some $4 trillion in GDP and at least
$1.3 trillion in stock value across seven U.S. states. The
river was already virtually tapped out last century, and
continuing troubles have now led the federal government to step
in to help manage its water use. Yet investors have barely
caused a ripple.
Arizona and California aren’t done finishing a plan that would
establish how states in the Colorado River Basin will ensure
water for millions of people in the Southwest, said the head of
the agency running the negotiations. … One challenge
comes from the Imperial Irrigation District, a water utility
that serves the Imperial Valley in southeastern California. It
hasn’t signed California’s plan because it wants $200 million
to restore the vanishing Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake.
A major deadline just passed without unanimous agreement among
Western states over the future of the Colorado River, so the
federal government is one step closer to stepping in on the
dwindling river that provides water for 1-in-8 Americans. The
path forward has become murkier for the drought-stricken region
now in its 19th year of low water levels after a January 31
deadline failed to garner signed agreements from Arizona and
Did the goalposts just move on us? … Media reports suggest
that Reclamation is lumping Arizona with California, which
clearly did not meet the deadline, in its reasoning for taking
an action that we had all hoped to avoid. It’s easy to feel
betrayed by that, to conclude that Arizona was asked to move
mountains and then when we did, we were told it still wasn’t
All eyes were on Arizona this week as state lawmakers took a
last-minute vote on their part of the pact. They approved the
plan Thursday afternoon, just hours before the deadline, but
Arizona officials still haven’t finalized a variety of
documents. In addition, a California irrigation district with
massive river rights has yet to sign off on the
agreement. On Friday, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner
Brenda Burman … said the agency would start the
formal legal process of soliciting comments on how it should
Communities along the Colorado River are facing a new era of
drought and water shortages that is threatening their future.
With an official water emergency declaration now possible,
farmers, ranchers, and towns are searching for ways to use less
water and survive. Third in a series.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed a drought contingency plan Thursday
afternoon, six hours ahead of the deadline set by a key federal
official for the state to act or face having its Colorado River
water supply determined by her.That came despite objections
from some legislators who questioned why the state will allow
Pinal County farmers to once again pump groundwater for their
crops and will also provide cash to help them do it.
The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department’s Western
water bureaucracy that saw its dam-building heyday in the
1960s, has risen in stature once again in the Trump
administration. Reclamation has flexed its muscles on Colorado
River drought management plans… And it has been the
administration’s key player in trying to fulfill President
Trump’s campaign promise to deliver more water to California
farmers, squeezing the state and forging ahead on a dam project
California says it doesn’t want.
California’s Imperial Irrigation District will get the
last word on the seven-state Colorado River Drought Contingency
Plans. And IID could end up with $200 million to restore the
badly polluted and fast-drying Salton Sea. Thursday, as the
clock ticked toward a midnight deadline set by a top federal
official, all eyes had been on Arizona. But lawmakers there
approved the Colorado River drought deal with about seven hours
to spare. IID, an often-overlooked southeastern California
agricultural water district, appears to have thrown a
last-minute monkey wrench into the process.
Arizona lawmakers appear on track to pass a Colorado River
drought plan, with less than 30 hours to go before a critical
federal deadline. A state Senate committee voted 6-1
Wednesday evening to pass a pair of measures that outline
how the state would share looming cutbacks on the
river’s water and work with other states to take less. The
bills now head to the full Senate and House. Both chambers are
expected to pass the bills Thursday, an effort that could
stretch into the night as they rush to meet a federal deadline.
The 32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the
history of the river’s development; negotiations over division
of its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and
a chronology of significant Colorado River events.
Warnings of doomsday on the river are nothing new. Too many
people, farms and factories depend on too little water, which
is why the Colorado now rarely flows to its end point at the
Gulf of California. The sprawling Southwest has sucked the
river dry. Yet the region has thrived in spite of the
naysayers. Until now, it appears.
The city of San Diego decided Tuesday to back California Atty.
Gen. Xavier Becerra’s lawsuit that seeks to hold the Trump
administration accountable for sewage and other toxic flows
that routinely spill over the border from Tijuana and foul
beaches as far north as Coronado. The City Council voted
unanimously in closed session on Tuesday to join the legal
action. Councilman Chris Cate was absent.
Avoiding a long-expected crisis on the Colorado River, a water
source for 40 million people, is coming down to a final few
days of frenzied negotiations. A 19-year drought and decades of
overuse have put a water shortfall on the horizon. If
California and six other states, all with deeply entrenched
interests, can’t agree on a plan to cut their water consumption
by Jan. 31, the federal government says it will step in and
decide the river’s future.
In Arizona, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan now
hinges on the approval of tribal nations. The plan is meant to
levy water cuts to seven Western states in order to prevent the
river and its reservoirs from reaching critical levels — but
after a state lawmaker introduced legislation that undermines
parts of the Gila River Indian Community’s water settlement,
the tribe has threatened to exit the plan. Without tribal
buy-in, Arizona’s implementation design will collapse….
Federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman has drawn a line
in the sand for Arizona and other Western states: Finish a deal
to take less water from the Colorado River by Thursday, or the
federal government will be forced to step in and decide how to
prevent reservoirs from falling to critical levels. … The
plan’s success or failure will turn on the actions of a
few key players, including leaders of the Legislature, tribes,
farmers, cities and the state’s water managers.
Arizona’s water leaders and lawmakers are running out of time
to complete the state’s Drought Contingency Plan, a
blueprint for how Arizona water users would share a likely
shortage on the Colorado River. … There are a lot of
moving parts to understand and a lot of concepts that may seem
overwhelming. Here are the things you need to know in advance
of the Jan. 31 deadline to finish the plan.
This is not quite anyone’s vision of the California dream,
popularly imagined as variations based on building a safe,
secure and successful life. … Instead, Imperial County is
emblematic of life for millions of people around the state who
live under an umbrella of bad air quality or who have
contaminated soil or lack access to clean water.
The restoration site is one of three south of the
U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last
miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small
amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to
an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been
claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through
an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites,
another source is increasingly important for restoring these
patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor:
With the Southwest locked in a 19-year drought and climate
change making the region increasingly drier, water managers and
users along the Colorado River are facing a troubling question:
Are we in a new, more arid era when there will never be enough
The Gila River Indian Community is threatening to blow up the
drought-contingency plan because of efforts it says will
undermine its claim to water rights. House Speaker Rusty Bowers
is proposing changes to state laws in a way he said will
protect the rights of farmers in the Safford Valley who have
been “scratching it out” to water from the Gila River. But
attorney Don Pongrace, who represents the Gila River Indian
Community, said … courts have ruled those rights — and the
water that goes with it — belong to the tribe.
For decades, the New River has flowed north across the
U.S.-Mexico border carrying toxic pollution and the stench of
sewage. Now lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento are pursuing
legislation and funding to combat the problems. “I feel very
optimistic that we’re going to be able to get some things done
on the New River issue,” said Assemblymember Eduardo
With Lake Mead now 39 percent full and approaching a first-ever
shortage, Western states that rely on the Colorado River are
looking to Arizona to sign a deal aimed at reducing the risk of
the reservoir crashing. The centerpiece of Gov. Ducey’s
proposed legislation is a resolution giving Arizona Department
of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke the authority to
sign the Drought Contingency Plan. The package of proposed
bills also would appropriate $35 million and
tweak existing legislation to make the plan work.
The draft legislation compiled by the Department of Water
Resources looks similar to how water leaders described the
measures at a Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee
meeting last week. … But the legislation as drafted
barely delves into the nitty-gritty details of a far more
complex intrastate agreement that Arizona water users have been
hashing out for months.
Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the
Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S.
are likely headed for another year of low water. That’s
according to a new analysis by the Western Water Assessment at
the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who
authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the
Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished
streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs
left depleted at the end of 2018.
A proposed Colorado River drought plan that will cost well over
$100 million is just the beginning of what’s needed to protect
the over-allocated river, says Bruce Babbitt, the former
governor who rammed through Arizona’s last big water
legislation nearly four decades ago. After Gov. Doug Ducey
urged legislators to “do the heavy lifting” and pass the
proposed drought-contingency plan for the Colorado, Babbitt
said Monday that authorities will have to start discussing a
much longer-term plan immediately after it’s approved.
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought,
the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its
diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must
confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water
may be cut off.