Colorado River Conference Pauses Water Management Negotiations

Dec. 19, 2019

Southwest water mangers have put a pause on renegotiating rules for managing water among the states and countries that share the Colorado River. 

Southwest Water is putting a pause on renegotiating rules for managing water among the seven states and two countries that share the Colorado River. 

This decision comes after years of deliberation over how to cut back water use on the river, according to the Nevada Independent. The current guidelines for the Colorado River are governed by a 2007 agreement that expires in 2026. 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) will conduct a review of how the current rules have worked and report back by the end of 2020. The review will encompass input from the states, tribes and other water users. After the review is complete, negotiations for a new set of guidelines are set to begin in 2021, reported the Nevada Independent

“It’s going to be a much more complex set of agreements that we’ve done on the river,” said Bill Hasencamp, who oversees Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. 

Although negotiations won’t start for at least another year, top water managers are already laying the foundations for future discussions, reported the Nevada Independent

“There are some very big [unresolved] questions,” said John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s water resources program. 

After a two-decade drought depleted reservoir supplies, the Colorado River states signed a water reduction plan in May. The first cutbacks for Arizona and Nevada will go into effect in January, reported the Nevada Independent

Since Nevada is already consuming less than its share, the cuts will not have an effect on water deliveries.

In 2007, the 29 federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin were left out of the negotiations of the guidelines. Several speakers stressed the importance of tribal participation moving ahead.

“Somebody used the word certainty,” said Daryl Vigil, member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico during a panel discussion. “If you don’t include tribes in the conversation, given the nature of the volume of water rights that they have, how is that we start to create certainty if there is a big piece of the puzzle missing in terms of water rights in the basin?”

The water authority is incorporating additional cuts into its planning. 

“By April of next year, we will have completed $1.5 billion in infrastructure that can only be described as climate change adaptation projects to protect our community,” said water authority General Manager John Entsminger.

Other water managers representing Arizona, California and Colorado stressed the importance of addressing climate change moving forward, according to the Nevada Independent.

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Cristina Tuser