Energy & Environment

Nevada official: Colorado River water-sharing talks have accomplished ‘exactly nothing’

A formerly sunken boat sits on cracked earth hundreds of feet from what is now the shoreline on Lake Mead.
John Locher/Associated Press
A formerly sunken boat sits on cracked earth hundreds of feet from what is now the shoreline on Lake Mead.

Water-sharing negotiations among the seven states in the Colorado River basin have failed to produce results, a Nevada water official said in a letter obtained by The Hill, on the eve of a Tuesday deadline when the federal government will step in.

The division of water from the river is divided among Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming under a century-old compact based on water levels that no longer exist. As a result, more water is allocated than actually flows through the river.

Earlier this year, the federal government gave the states an Aug. 15 deadline to reach a deal for 15 percent cuts to water usage or the federal government would impose the cuts unilaterally. 

In a letter to Interior Department and Bureau of Reclamation officials, John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, wrote that the last three months of talks have “produced exactly nothing in terms of meaningful collective action to help forestall the looming crisis.” 

Entsminger’s letter excoriated what he called “the drought profiteering” of agricultural districts in their demands, as well as generally “unreasonable expectations” by shareholders in the talks. 

“Through our collective inaction, the federal government, the basin states and every water user on the Colorado River is complicit in allowing the situation to reach this point,” he wrote. 

Entsminger made a number of policy recommendations to federal officials if and when they step in, including investments in water reuse, recycling and desalination programs, new managing criteria for facilities and reservoirs and the elimination of watering for nonfunctional turf by city governments. He also recommended that federal drought mitigation funding be prioritized for “those projects that provide meaningful long-term and permanent reductions in use.” 

The pending cuts come as the Western U.S. faces its worst drought since the year 800 A.D., plunging Lake Mead and Lake Powell to historic lows.

Talks between affected states have frequently run up against disagreements over which should give up more: the upper basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, versus the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada. 

Tags Colorado River Lake Mead Lake Powell Water Water use Water-sharing
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