Officials leave Colorado River talks with ‘agreement in concept’ |

Officials leave Colorado River talks with ‘agreement in concept’

LAS VEGAS ” Representatives for seven Western states that rely on the Colorado River said Friday that they are on track to meet next month’s deadline for turning over a water-sharing proposal to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.

“I think the states have an agreement in concept on all the difficult points,” said Pat Mulroy, Southern Nevada Water Authority general manager. “I am more than optimistic that we will meet the Feb. 2 deadline.”

Officials from the seven river basin states spent nearly two days behind closed doors trying to compromise on a drought management plan that will pass federal muster. Norton has said she wants the new plan in place by the end of 2007. If the states want a say in the process, they have to submit their own plan by early next month.

Under a 1922 compact, the states are allotted a portion of the 15 million acre-feet of water assumed to be in the vast Colorado River system. At issue is how to allocate water from the river when flows are low and reservoirs can’t supply normal amounts to each state.

Water officials, who’ve been working on the plan for more than a year, remained tightlipped on details of the emerging agreement, saying they did not want to sabotage the deal.

California’s representative Gerald Zimmerman said the states were moving toward trying to improve management of the river system’s two reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

“We want to be operating as a system, rather than as two separate reservoirs,” he said.

In the past, the states have sparred over a variety of issues, including Nevada’s attempts to feed its growth by tapping into tributaries. Upper basins state have argued those rivers should be considered part of the Colorado River system and count toward Nevada’s water allotment.

Mulroy said she felt confident the issue would be resolved. She said Nevada was willing to agree to put aside its plans to tap the Virgin River and pay for efficiency improvements to the lower basin system if it was compensated with water.

The states also have been searching for ways to increase the amount of water in the system by cloud seeding or desalinization projects. Mulroy said some of the plans for augmentation techniques are likely to be detailed in an agreement worked out after the February deadline.

Officials said the tentative deal is based on ideas not numbers.

“It’s still fragile. The devil is still in the details, so we’re putting the details together,” said Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Separate committees will meet throughout the month to calculate water availability and use, and work out technical issues. Representatives from Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, California, Arizona and Nevada are planning to meet again at the end of the month.

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