Federal agencies begin “fast track” process to help save drought-stricken Colorado River

Federal agencies begin “fast track” process to help save drought-stricken Colorado River


The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Friday that it had begun an “urgent” process to potentially change watershed operations. drought-stricken Colorado RiverLike Lake Mead and Lake Powell dropped to a terrifying new low.

He said that the Ministry of Interior will consider the possible actions that he has identified using federal authority Help keep water in Mead and Powell — two of the nation’s largest reservoirs — to limit the flow of water through Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams and prevent the dams from losing their hydroelectric power generation capacity.

According to the Bureau of Reclamation, hydropower from the two dams is distributed to customers in eight western states, and with each reservoir’s level dropping so low, experts fear they will stop generating electricity in the coming years.

The Colorado River system provides water and electricity to more than 40 million people in the West. But the river basin suffered because of the region Worst drought in 1200 years.

To avoid a full-blown crisis on the Colorado River, reclamation workers have been working for months with Western states, tribes, farmers and cities en masse, arbitrary reduction of water.

Negotiations have been long and contentious, but it remains unclear whether the states will be able to reach an agreement. If they don’t, Reclamation Commissioner Camille Towton said this summer the federal government will act on its own to save the river system from collapse.

Tuton reiterated at a recent virtual event that he prefers to negotiate with states, but that the Bureau is prepared to act on its own if necessary.

“I see our role in the pool to be part of the conversation, but we are responsible for our facilities,” Tuton said of the federal government. “As has been proven over the last 100 years, and maybe it’s being tested this year, the right way is to work with the states and the tribes to move forward. But we also take a realistic view of the real challenges that our organization has never seen in the history of this organization in the West.”

A Colorado River expert told CNN that Interior’s announcement could prompt states to end ongoing negotiations — a reminder that the federal government can act on its own.

“To me, it means hopefully that there will be a consensus agreement that will make life a lot easier for the bureau and the Secretary of the Interior,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kiel Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. “This is certainly a sign that the bureau has not given up on unilateral action.”

Lisa Lien-Mager, a spokeswoman for the California Natural Resources Agency, said California is optimistic negotiations with other states, including Arizona and Nevada, “we recognize the need for our federal partners to prepare for actions that may be necessary to protect critical reservoir elevations.” ” if states cannot agree on water cuts.

Interior said Friday it will issue a notice of intent to the Bureau of Reclamation that Glen Canyon Dam may need to change its current operation and reduce its downstream releases, which could cause water levels in the Mead to drop further. This would be done to ensure that the Glen Canyon Dam could continue to operate and generate power.

It also may be necessary to limit the release of water downstream from the Hoover Dam itself “to protect the operation of the Hoover Dam, the integrity of the system, and the health and safety of the public.”

Hoover Dam in August.

Before beginning remediation measures, it will hold a public consultation until December 20 on three possible courses of action:

  • A version of the so-called “master compact” in which the states, tribes, cities and farmers of the Colorado River Basin agree on how much water can be saved by voluntary reductions to restore Lakes Mead and Powell.
  • Reservoir Options Plan, in which the federal government acts unilaterally and tells states how much water they need to cut to save the river system.
  • A “no action” option where current agreements governing operations at Glen Canyon and Hoover Dam continue

Porter said that while “no action” is the alternative standard in federal environmental impact statements, it might be useful to include it in Interior to show how devastating a lack of action can be to a river system.

“We’re in danger of a dead pool,” Porter said. “The bureau is committed to keeping that front and center.”

A draft of the changes will be released in the spring of next year, according to the bureau, a final decision will be made by the end of the summer. The decision will take effect for the next water year, which begins in the fall of 2023.

“We are prepared to take the swift and decisive action necessary to protect the Colorado River system and all that depend on it,” Interior Secretary Deb Holland said in a statement Friday. “Revising the current interim operating guidelines for Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams is one of many important departmental efforts underway to better protect the system in light of rapidly changing conditions in the basin.”

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