Colorado River woes: States look to three-pronged search for solutions

Published: Thursday, Oct. 8 2015 6:29 p.m. MDT

Colorado River (Peter Raabe, American Rivers) Colorado River (Peter Raabe, American Rivers)

SALT LAKE CITY — The seven basin states of the Colorado River are being hammered with drought and diminished snowpack that will create the lowest levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead in 45 years.

Still, Bureau of Reclamation Director Mike Connor said he remains optimistic that the states will work together to counter the shortfall and projected shortages going into the next 50 years, and he released a three-pronged effort Tuesday to get it done.

"The river has been described as the most litigated and fought for resource in the United States" he said, noting that has changed in the past 15 years with the onset of multiple collaborative agreements among the states.

Connor was among the speakers featured at the bureau's "next steps" conference Tuesday in San Diego as the agency begins another phase of the Colorado River Supply and Demand study.

"The challenges are very real and daunting," he said.

The bureau announced that solutions will be crafted going forward that address three main areas: municipal water conservation and reuse, agricultural conservation and transfers, and maintaining flows for a healthy environment and recreation industry.

The conference was attended by representatives from the seven basin states, including Utah, as well as groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund.

With a projected shortfall of as much as 3.2 million acre-feet — the equivalent of the amount needed to keep the taps on in the greater Los Angeles area — the bureau's Anne Castle noted the Colorado River is under extreme pressure.

"What the study shows us is that we have to do more, and we have to do that together," she said.

The conference noted there had already been conservation success stories in places like Nevada and Southern California, but more work needs to be done.

"With another winter of low snowpack, the basin is facing another summer of drought conditions," said Molly Mugglestone, co-director of Protect the Flows. "We need to put these common-sense solutions into action in order to protect the water that we all depend on. Now that the study has concluded, it is time for action.”

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