Deadpool is Not Just a Movie in Colorado

December 17, 2022

Washington Post:

The water managers responsible for divvying up the Colorado River’s dwindling supply are painting a bleak portrait of a river in crisis, warning that unprecedented shortages could be coming to farms and cities in the West and that old rules governing how water is shared will have to change.

State and federal authorities say that years of overconsumption are colliding with the stark realities of climate change, pushing Colorado River reservoirs to such dangerously low levels that the major dams on the river could soon become obstacles to delivering water to millions in the Southwest.

The federal government has called on the seven Western states that rely on Colorado River water to cut usage by 2 to 4 million acre-feet — up to a third of the river’s annual average flow — to try to avoid such dire outcomes. But the states have so far failed to reach a voluntary agreement on how to make that happen, and the Interior Department may impose unilateral cuts in coming months.

“Without immediate and decisive actions, elevations at Lake Powell and Mead could force the system to stop functioning,” Tommy Beaudreau, the Interior Department’s deputy secretary, told a conference of Colorado River officials here Friday. “That’s an intolerable condition that we won’t allow to happen.”

Many state water officials fear they are already running out of time.

Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which delivers Colorado River water to central Arizona, said that “there’s a real possibility of an effective dead pool” within the next two years. That means water levels could fall so far that the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams — which created the reservoirs at Lake Powell and Lake Mead — would become an obstacle to delivering water to cities and farms in Arizona, California and Mexico.

“We may not be able to get water past either of the two dams in the major reservoirs for certain parts of the year,” Cooke said. “This is on our doorstep.”

The looming crisis has energized this annual gathering of water bureaucrats, the occasional cowboy hat visible among the standing-room-only crowd inside Caesars Palace. It’s the first time the conference has sold out, organizers said, and the specter of mass shortages looms as state water managers, tribes and the federal government meet to hash out how to cut usage on an unprecedented scale.

“I can feel the anxiety and the uncertainty in this room and in the basin,” said Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.

The negotiations will ultimately have to weigh cuts in rapidly growing urban areas against those in farming communities that produce much of the country’s supply of winter vegetables. In the complex world of water rights, farms often have priority over cities because they’ve been using river water longer. Unlike in past negotiations, water managers now expect that cuts will affect even the most senior water users.

The states of the Upper Colorado River Basin — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — say it is difficult to specify how much they can cut because they are less dependent on allocations from reservoirs and more on variable flows of the river. The lower basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — also consume far more water.

“In the Upper Basin, we can say we’ll take 80 percent, and Mother Nature gives us 30,” said Gene Shawcroft, chair of the Colorado River Authority of Utah. “Those are some of the challenges we’re wrestling with.”

The federal government set an August deadline for the states to reach a voluntary agreement on cuts, but that deadline passed with no deal. Some state officials here blame the Biden administration. When it became clear this summer that the federal government wasn’t ready to impose unilateral cuts, the urgency for a deal evaporated, they said.


One Response to “Deadpool is Not Just a Movie in Colorado”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    It’s long past time to nuke Glen Canyon Dam, the upstream dam that forms Lake Powell. Meanwhile, they’ll have to figure out a different way to generate power in a desert.

    That might buy a few more years for Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.

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