by Leslie Eastman at legalinsurrection.com
The deal-makers are happy. Everyone else, less so.
Seven U.S. states that depend on the Colorado River reached a historic agreement to cut consumption from the source that supplies water for 40 million people and irrigation for some of the nation’s most important agricultural areas.
Arizona, California and Nevada have agreed to take less water from the drought-strained Colorado River, a breakthrough agreement that, for now, keeps the river from falling so low that it would jeopardize water supplies for major Western cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles as well as for some of America’s most productive farmland.
The agreement, announced Monday, calls for the federal government to pay about $1.2 billion to irrigation districts, cities and Native American tribes in the three states if they temporarily use less water. The states have also agreed to make additional cuts beyond the ones tied to the federal payments to generate the total reductions needed to prevent the collapse of the river.
Taken together, those reductions would amount to about 13 percent of the total water use in the lower Colorado Basin — among the most aggressive ever experienced in the region, and likely to require significant water restrictions for residential and agriculture uses.Under the terms of the proposed deal, federal officials would compensate users of the water for most of their reductions.
The 1,450-mile Colorado River is a lifeblood for the Southwest, supplying drinking water to 40 million people, irrigating 5.5 million acres of farmland and accounting for an estimated 16 million jobs. However, its flow has steadily declined over the past two decades amid the worst drought to hit the region in 1,200 years, according to a University of California, Los Angeles-led study earlier this year.
As a result, states that rely on the water have had to undergo steadily increasing conservation, which has reduced farm acreage and started to put pressure on cities. Arizona, because it has the lowest seniority rights on the Colorado, has been hit the most with some farm areas losing as much as half their growing area after cuts were made last year.
The latest cuts would largely come from farms, cities and tribes in the river’s lower basin, some of which have agreed not to use water in Lake Mead they were entitled to, given the record amounts of water that accumulated throughout the West this winter, state officials said.
Arizona officials called the cuts more equitable than under a past proposal by California which would have allocated the water largely in keeping with the priority system, which was first established a century ago when rights to the Colorado were divided up.
Of course, the climate cultists are not happy with the deal.
Some environmental activists criticized the short-term deal as being a far cry from what’s needed.
“The feds just want a deal. Is it the right deal? Absolutely not,” said John Weisheit, an activist who co-founded the group Living Rivers. “Where is the climate adaptation deal? There isn’t one.
Californians also have a few thoughts.