DENVER – Tuesday, March 19, 2019 – The seven Colorado River Basin States of Colorado, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming signed a letter to Congress today requesting legislation to implement a negotiated contingency plan that responds to the historic dry conditions and the effects of climate change on the Colorado River.
“Water is the lifeblood of the West. We all have a vested interest in the management of the Colorado River,” Governor Jared Polis said. “Thanks to the excellent work from each of the Basin States, we are in position to ensure lasting success for the Colorado River, its environment, economy, and future.”
The announcement comes on the deadline set by the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman for the Basin States to address the situation or provide her agency with input as to Colorado River operations and management.
Gov. Polis’s principal representative on Colorado River negotiations, James Eklund, echoed the call for action, “As we finish this race, we begin another… and our pace needs to quicken. Our exceptional snowpack this year merely signals that the more extreme swings in precipitation and the warmer temperatures of climate change require effective and efficient implementation of the tools we are creating in the contingency plan.”
While the state of California chose to join Colorado and the other Basin States in signing the letter to Congress, an important water user, the Imperial Irrigation District in Southern California unfortunately could not move forward at this time due to an outstanding request for federal assistance. “We support regional, state and local stakeholders in their efforts to obtain federal funding through existing and future programs to help address impacts to the Salton Sea. However, as negotiated, the DCP is not linked to and does not result in adverse impacts to the Salton Sea. The flexible tools found in the DCPs are needed now,” said Eklund.
The Colorado River provides water to approximately 40 million people and 5.5 million acres of irrigated agriculture in the Upper Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and Lower Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada). The river originates in Colorado and Colorado contributes approximately 70 percent of its flow. Since 2000, the Basin has experienced historically dry conditions and combined storage in Lakes Powell and Mead has reached its lowest level since Lake Powell initially filled in the 1960s. Last year’s runoff into the Colorado River was the second lowest since 2000, and there is no sign that the trend of extended dry conditions will end any time soon even if 2019 provides above average runoff. Lakes Powell and Mead could reach critically low levels as early as 2021. Declining reservoirs threaten water supplies that are essential to the environment, economy, and overall health of the Southwestern United States.
You can read the full letter here.