Official: River battle unlikely before 2021

Arizona, California and Nevada can’t demand more water from Colorado for nearly a decade, but a day of reckoning is growing nearer, water officials said.

The possibility of a call on the river, however, is underscored by the aridity of 2013.

“It looks like 2013 will be the third-driest year for Lake Powell,” Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said Tuesday in a meeting with The Daily Sentinel editorial board. “Low reservoir levels have everyone’s attention.”

Runoff for the water year, which ends Sept. 30, was 35 percent to 50 percent of normal through July, setting the stage for dire predictions of runoff in the coming years.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority this month called for federal disaster relief to address the water scarcity in the Colorado River system and the Bureau of Reclamation announced this week that it was looking to store more water in Lake Powell in 2014 than it might otherwise.

The upper-basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are required under a 1922 agreement to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water to the lower basin each year, as well as water for Mexico.

That hasn’t been a problem because the requirement is based on a 10-year rolling average.

The current average includes the high-water year of 2012, Kuhn noted, but that year eventually will be factored out and its influence could be leveled out by a succession of low-runoff years.

“As a practical matter, we’re not going to run into a compact problem until 2021, 2022, 2023,” Kuhn said.

The compact states also have a “peace agreement” that expires in 2025 and the parties appear committed to observing it, Kuhn said.

Still, the low levels of water in the Colorado River reservoirs are pumping new importance into talks about how to manage the river, Kuhn said.

Another agreement among the River District, Western Slope water users and Denver Water has yet to be signed by all parties, but already is paying off for the Western Slope, Kuhn said.

The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement provides for the river levels to be maintained at the levels that would be required if the Shoshone generating station in Glenwood Canyon were operating even at times that the plant is down or operating at less than capacity.

The agreement is being honored, Kuhn said, as are provisions governing the operations of Green Mountain Reservoir.

“Everyone is sticking to the agreement,” said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who represents the county on the River District board.


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