Colo River states meeting next week on Lake Powell releases
PHOENIX – The federal government will be forced to settle the short-term question of how water from the Colorado River water will be divided for the next six months among Arizona and six other states.At issue is whether the states along the upper river – Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming – can withhold water from the lower-river states of Arizona, California and Nevada, which benefited more from the winter storm runoffs.Representatives of the seven states will meet Tuesday in Las Vegas to discuss how much water should be released from Lake Powell downstream into Lake Mead this summer. They are not expected to reach an agreement, however, leaving the final call to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.Some say fallout from the federal decision, expected by May 1, could sour long-range discussions about the river’s future and hurt Arizona’s efforts to protect its supply during a drought.”We’ve approached (the upper-river states) three times to get a consensus on this,” said Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “They’ve chosen to use it as bully pulpit against us. I think it’s already kind of spoiled the atmosphere.”The river’s water use typically is planned out one year in advance, from October to October.But because the drought had taken such a toll on Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the states agreed this year to revisit the numbers after six months.The Upper Basin states say Powell, which is at 33 percent of capacity, needs help in recovering from the drought.They argue that Mead received extra water this year from the heavy winter runoff and want the secretary to reduce the water released from the reservoir downriver to Mead by 500,000 acre-feet or more, a reduction of about 6 percent compared with a normal year.The Lower Basin states say there’s no reason to change the original plan because the upper river is set to receive more runoff than predicted last fall.They say Powell will rise by as much as 50 feet this spring and summer and won’t need the extra protection sought by the upper-river states.The Colorado General Assembly has adopted a resolution calling on the Interior Department to reduce water deliveries from Powell, and state water managers are marshalling the other Upper Basin states to support that position.Since Powell began operation more than two decades ago, the Upper Basin states have always released a minimum of 8.23 million acre-feet a year to the lower states. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough to serve one or two average households for one year.Upper Basin officials are now citing specific passages from the compact that say they are not bound to deliver that amount of water each year but rather a total of 75 million acre-feet over 10 years.
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