Waves of torrential rainfall drenched California into the new
year. Snowpacks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains have swelled to
more than 200% their normal size, and snowfall across the rest
of the Colorado River Basin is trending above average, too.
While the much-needed water has improved conditions in the
parched West, experts warn against claiming victory. About 60%
of the region remains in some form of drought, continuing a
decades-long spiral into water scarcity. … Over the
years, a proposed solution has come up again and again:
large-scale river diversions, including pumping Mississippi
River water to the parched west.
As of Friday morning, more than 600 colonias were without
running water in Tijuana and Rosarito, where residents say
service has been spotty since last year. Facing the possibility
of running out of water, Tijuana’s State Commission for Public
Services, CESPT, turned to the San Diego County Water Authority
for help. Agreements in place between Mexico and the United
States allow for water deliveries in times of emergency or
severe drought. So last week, the San Diego-based agency began
sending water to Tijuana. Compounding the problem is the
deterioration of Tijuana’s main aqueduct that delivers water
from the Colorado River, the city’s main source of water. So
far, repairs are taking longer than expected.
President Joe Biden has approved three bills that will improve
access to water for three tribes in Arizona amid an unrelenting
drought. One of the measures that Biden signed Thursday
settles longstanding water rights claims for the Hualapai
Tribe, whose reservation borders a 100-mile (161-kilometer)
stretch of the Colorado River as it runs through the Grand
Canyon. Hualapai will have the right to divert up to 3,414
acre-feet of water per year, along with the ability to lease it
As water interests in the Colorado
River Basin prepare to negotiate a new set of operating
guidelines for the drought-stressed river, Amelia Flores wants
her Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) to be involved in the
discussion. And she wants CRIT seated at the negotiating table
with something invaluable to offer on a river facing steep cuts
in use: its surplus water.
CRIT, whose reservation lands in California and Arizona are
bisected by the Colorado River, has some of the most senior water
rights on the river. But a federal law enacted in the late 1700s,
decades before any southwestern state was established, prevents
most tribes from sending any of its water off its reservation.
The restrictions mean CRIT, which holds the rights to nearly a
quarter of the entire state of Arizona’s yearly allotment of
river water, is missing out on financial gain and the chance to
help its river partners.
Out of sight and out of mind to most
people, the Salton Sea in California’s far southeast corner has
challenged policymakers and local agencies alike to save the
desert lake from becoming a fetid, hyper-saline water body
inhospitable to wildlife and surrounded by clouds of choking
The sea’s problems stretch beyond its boundaries in Imperial and
Riverside counties and threaten to undermine multistate
management of the Colorado River. A 2019 Drought Contingency Plan for the
Lower Colorado River Basin was briefly stalled when the Imperial
Irrigation District, holding the river’s largest water
allocation, balked at participating in the plan because, the
district said, it ignored the problems of the Salton Sea.
High in the headwaters of the Colorado River, around the hamlet of Kremmling, Colorado, generations of families have made ranching and farming a way of life, their hay fields and cattle sustained by the river’s flow. But as more water was pulled from the river and sent over the Continental Divide to meet the needs of Denver and other cities on the Front Range, less was left behind to meet the needs of ranchers and fish.
“What used to be a very large river that inundated the land has really become a trickle,” said Mely Whiting, Colorado counsel for Trout Unlimited. “We estimate that 70 percent of the flow on an annual average goes across the Continental Divide and never comes back.”
Groundwater helped make Kern County
the king of California agricultural production, with a $7 billion
annual array of crops that help feed the nation. That success has
come at a price, however. Decades of unchecked groundwater
pumping in the county and elsewhere across the state have left
some aquifers severely depleted. Now, the county’s water managers
have less than a year left to devise a plan that manages and
protects groundwater for the long term, yet ensures that Kern
County’s economy can continue to thrive, even with less water.
In the universe of California water, Tim Quinn is a professor emeritus. Quinn has seen — and been a key player in — a lot of major California water issues since he began his water career 40 years ago as a young economist with the Rand Corporation, then later as deputy general manager with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and finally as executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies. In December, the 66-year-old will retire from ACWA.
As the Colorado River Basin becomes
drier and shortage conditions loom, one great variable remains:
How much of the river’s water belongs to Native American tribes?
Native Americans already use water from the Colorado River and
its tributaries for a variety of purposes, including leasing it
to non-Indian users. But some tribes aren’t using their full
federal Indian reserved water right and others have water rights
claims that have yet to be resolved. Combined, tribes have rights
to more water than some states in the Colorado River Basin.
This 30-minute documentary-style DVD on the history and current
state of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program includes an
overview of the geography and history of the river, historical
and current water delivery and uses, the genesis and timeline of
the 1988 lawsuit, how the settlement was reached and what was
This 7-minute DVD is designed to teach children in grades 5-12
about where storm water goes – and why it is so important to
clean up trash, use pesticides and fertilizers wisely, and
prevent other chemicals from going down the storm drain. The
video’s teenage actors explain the water cycle and the difference
between sewer drains and storm drains, how storm drain water is
not treated prior to running into a river or other waterway. The
teens also offer a list of BMPs – best management practices that
homeowners can do to prevent storm water pollution.
This beautiful 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, displays
the rivers, lakes and reservoirs, irrigated farmland, urban areas
and Indian reservations within the Klamath River Watershed. The
map text explains the many issues facing this vast,
15,000-square-mile watershed, including fish restoration;
agricultural water use; and wetlands. Also included are
descriptions of the separate, but linked, Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Agreement,
and the next steps associated with those agreements. Development
of the map was funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to
Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of
California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the
authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a
faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of
California water rights.
The 20-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Marketing provides
background information on water rights, types of transfers and
critical policy issues surrounding this topic. First published in
1996, the 2005 version offers expanded information on
groundwater banking and conjunctive use, Colorado River
transfers and the role of private companies in California’s
developing water market.
Order in bulk (25 or more copies of the same guide) for a reduced
fee. Contact the Foundation, 916-444-6240, for details.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to Integrated Regional Water
Management (IRWM) is an in-depth, easy-to-understand publication
that provides background information on the principles of IRWM,
its funding history and how it differs from the traditional water
The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people and 4
million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000
square miles in the southwestern United States. 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.
The Yuba Accord is a landmark agreement that balances the
interests of environmental groups, agriculture, water agencies
and hydroelectric operators relying on water from the Yuba
River. A tributary of the Feather River, the Yuba is
located north of Sacramento.
Pieced together after two decades of lawsuits, the Yuba Accord
allows for fresh water flows to support native fish while also
providing water for hydropower, transfers and irrigation. The
Accord took effect in 2008 after two years as a pilot project.
This printed issue of Western Water explores the
historic nature of some of the key agreements in recent years,
future challenges, and what leading state representatives
identify as potential “worst-case scenarios.” Much of the content
for this issue of Western Water came from the in-depth
panel discussions at the Colorado River Symposium. The Foundation
will publish the full proceedings of the Symposium in 2012.
This issue of Western Water examines the continuing practice of
smart water use in the urban sector and its many facets, from
improved consumer appliances to improved agency planning to the
improvements in water recycling and desalination. Many in the
water community say conserving water is not merely a response to
drought conditions, but a permanent ethic in an era in which
every drop of water is a valuable commodity not to be wasted.
This issue updates progress on crafting and implementing
California’s 4.4 plan to reduce its use of Colorado River water
by 800,000 acre-feet. The state has used as much as 5.2 million
acre-feet of Colorado River water annually, but under pressure
from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and the other six states
that share this resource, California’s Colorado River parties
have been trying to close the gap between demand and supply.