Seven US states compete for a river that supplies water to 40 million people

The Colorado River, which supplies tens of millions of people with water, has become the target of seven US states, amid a severe drought.

The Colorado River flows through seven southwestern states before emptying into the sea in Mexico, providing clean water for 40 million people and a $5 billion agricultural industry in the region. However, it has become the subject of a dispute between seven states, including Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and California, amid declining water supplies due to drought and soaring demand.

When seven states reached an agreement to divide the Colorado River 100 years ago, they estimated the river could provide about 24.6 million cubic meters of water per year. But over the past 20 years, the river’s flow has decreased to about 15.4 million cubic meters per year, leaving the actual supply to the states lower than agreed, and state officials all want to get the most out of the water available. body.





The Colorado River flows through the US states.  Graphics: Britannica

The Colorado River flows through the US states. Graphics: Britannica

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has urged seven states to reach new agreements to cut 2.4-4.8 million cubic meters of water from the Colorado River each year. If they are unable to negotiate, the federal government will impose a policy of mandatory reductions to resolve the dispute.

The six states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming on January 31 reached an agreement on a model to reduce the use of Colorado River water, before a deadline set by the federal government. However, California, the state that gets the most water from the river, did not join the deal and announced it would announce its own plan.

“This is a step forward,” said Kevin Moran, a water policy expert at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Six out of the seven states in the basin are actively reducing the amount of water taken from the Colorado River. This is urgently needed after 20 years of drought and the impact of climate change.”





A canal that draws water from the Colorado River flows through a spinach field in Imperial Valley, California, December 5, 2022.  Photo: Reuters

A canal that draws water from the Colorado River flows through a spinach field in Imperial Valley, California, December 5, 2022. Photo: Reuters

California uses 80% of its water allocated from the Colorado River for agricultural use. Many experts believe that California’s decision not to join the agreement will push the battle for water rights to the US Supreme Court.

“California water officials are saying they don’t want to reduce their allocation and are ready to go to court if they have to,” explains David Hayes, a lecturer at Stanford Law School.

Hayes, a former top climate aide to US President Joe Biden, said that instead of litigation, the seven states need to do more to protect their reservoirs from overexploitation and growing droughts. worse due to climate change. If left unchecked, the water from the Hoover Dam supplying Las Vegas or many major California cities could be threatened.

California has been experiencing flooding due to heavy rain for weeks from late December 2022, but only a small amount of rainwater has entered the Colorado River basin. This makes it impossible for California to solve its long-term drought crisis without investing in stormwater capture, flood recovery, and wastewater recycling.





Lake Powell seen from above, where the water level has dropped to low due to increasing water demand and changes in the aftermath of the Colorado River narrowing in Page, Arizona, November 19, 2022.  Photo: Reuters

Lake Powell seen from above, where the water level has dropped to low due to increasing water demand and changes in the aftermath of the Colorado River narrowing in Page, Arizona, November 19, 2022. Photo: Reuters

A report in Nature last year found that 2000-2021 could be the driest 22-year period in southwestern North America in at least the past 1,200 years.

“There’s going to be concessions,” said Sharon Megdal, director of the Center for Water Resources Research at the University of Arizona, of the seven-state water dispute, because as temperatures rise, mountain snow melts. faster in the spring, while the states lack the capacity to store water.

In a letter of consent sent by six state officials to the US Land Administration, they said it was necessary to change the process of operating and sharing water from the Colorado River.

“I think everyone wants to figure out how to sustain economic activities, economies and livelihoods that depend on the river,” Megdal said. “But going forward, the Colorado River will get drier and drier.”

Hong Hanh (Theo Reuters)

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