Experts: River shortfall must be addressed

The seven states that use Colorado River water need to come together to outline the best uses of it to the benefit of all.

That, at least, was the theme of congressional hearings Tuesday on the recent U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study.

Several water experts, including Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor, testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power, which is chaired by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

During that nearly two-hour hearing, the committee heard testimony from numerous experts from several of the states that share the river, offering their ideas on where the states should go to meet water demands that are expected to increase over the next several decades.

“When the median of water supply projections is compared against the median of water demand projections, the basin-wide imbalance in future demand is about 3.2 million acre-feet annually by 2060,” Connor told the subcommittee. “Ultimately, the study is a call to action for all who rely on the Colorado River. A broad group of stakeholders led by Reclamation in the seven basin states is moving forward to take the appropriate next steps. These will ensure that increased aggressive actions are taken to address the gap in supply and demand.”

One household uses about an acre-foot of water each year. Currently, about 40 million people get water from the river, a number that’s expected to nearly double by 2060.

Connor said actions taken in the seven states over the past decade have resulted in the conservation of more than 1 million acre-feet of water, but more is needed.

Udall said it is paramount that Congress and the seven states find new ways to manage the river.

“These strategies, which include reducing demand through innovation, conservation and better management of supply, will help us prepare for the future and reduce the river basin’s vulnerabilities,” the senator said. “In the near term, we need to focus, and I think we must, on conservation activities and water reuse and recycling.”

Some of the experts who testified at the Washington, D.C., hearing said that as water demand increases, it wouldn’t take much for the states to battle each other over use of the river.

Tanya Trujillo, executive director of California’s Colorado River Board, said that would be a bad idea.

“Although we could always revert back to our respective corners and work to strengthen our historical positions, our current efforts are focused on working together to develop coordinated solutions,” she said. “These coordinated efforts are not easy, and if the hydrology continues to worsen, tensions will increase.”


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