The federal government has asked the western states to come to an agreement on the water shutoffs.
California was unable to reach an agreement with six other states over the Colorado River.
The proposed cuts come as decades of drought have reduced the water supplies on which millions depend.
Western states failed to reach an agreement this week on how to reduce water use from the Colorado River, even as the waterway is drying up and failing to replenish water supplies that cities, farms and millions depend on. of people.
Well, six of the seven states that make up the Colorado River basin have reached an agreement, but California, the largest user of the river’s water, has not joined.
The six states (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) submitted their proposed water shutoffs Monday, after all the states missed an August deadline based on a request from the Office of Water Recovery. US The new deadline called for states to propose a plan by the end of January that would reduce river water consumption by 15% to 30%.
But after failing to sign off on that plan, California submitted its own proposal on Tuesday.
“Both proposals recognize that something important needs to be done,” Sharon B. Megdal, director of the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center, told Insider, adding: “We need either a total reset or a total recalibration of what you’re doing”.
“At least they put things in writing, which is much better than having nothing to go from,” he said of the dueling proposals.
Both plans propose major cuts, although they differ on how, when and from where those cuts would be made. According to Jeff Fleck, a professor at the University of New Mexico and an expert on the Colorado River, both proposals arrive at the same place in time, but the difference is “in time.”
“California’s cuts don’t kick in until later, essentially a bet on good hydrology that once again helps us avoid conflict by allowing us to use more water in the short term,” Fleck wrote in an analysis of the proposals shared on his blog. , adding “the six-state proposal says ‘make it big'” when Lake Mead falls below a certain level which it would be earlier than under California’s plan.
“The six-state proposal removes the band-aid now,” he added.
The proposals also differ on how the cuts would be allocated.
California, which has the largest allocation of water from the Colorado River, also has senior citizen rights that allow it to be one of the last states to cut off when there are shortages.
“The strongest thing that the other basin states have going for them is some relative level of consensus. And the strongest thing California has is the law,” said Rhett Larson, a professor of water law at Arizona State University, to Los Angeles Times.
Still, despite failing to reach an agreement by the federal government’s deadline, the states can still come to a final agreement on a plan, and state officials have said they are all continuing to cooperate.
“I don’t see not having unanimity on one step of that process as a failure,” John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told the Associated Press. “I think the seven states are still committed to working together.”
If the states can’t reach an agreement on their own, that may require federal government intervention, raising the risk of court battles, prolonging a situation where “time is of the essence,” Megdal said, adding that “Going to court doesn’t create the water.”
He also stressed the importance of having these proposals in writing, which could be used to build and help reach consensus, but said most importantly, all states seem willing to do big water shutoffs. The hardest part can come even after the cuts are agreed upon, when states have to determine how all water users (municipal, agricultural, industrial, tribal) will be affected.
“The challenge is that we need to rebalance the use of water and what the system is producing,” he said. “We have been living on borrowed water.”
Megdal explained that many states rely on water from reservoirs fed by the Colorado River, such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which have reached record lows after decades of drought and the impacts of climate change.
“That storage is not being replenished,” he said. “We need to come into balance with what nature provides us with.”
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