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Potential Colorado River Water Plan May Lead to Unprecedented Reduction in Supply, Affecting Essential Industries.


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Hoover Dam. Credit: Unsplash / CC0 Public Domain

Earlier this month, the Biden administration Proposal A plan to distribute parcels of the Colorado River and resolve a century-old legal dispute between states across the American Southwest that share the water supply.

Decades of drought and overuse have reduced the river’s water levels to historic lows. Now states in the lower Colorado River basin – Arizona, California and Nevada – must choose between one of three options proposed by the federal government.

The outcome of these talks will have far-reaching implications for agriculture and energy in the region. The Colorado River provides water to more than 40 million Americans and 30 tribal nations, fuels hydroelectric resources in eight states and supports agriculture throughout the region.

“Food, energy and water are regulated separately, which can be problematic. You can’t change policy in one of these areas without affecting the others,” says Robin Craig, a professor of law at the USC Gould School of Law.

“The choices proposed by the Biden administration to deal with the ongoing Colorado River shortages highlight a fundamental water dilemma for the West as a whole: Do we continue to respect the West’s historical patterns of water use, or are we grounded in principles of fairness and the need to reassess what the Southwest is doing with that water?” ”

Option 1: Cut evenly across the lower pelvic states

Equal reductions in water appropriations across the lower basin states would represent an unprecedented break with the legal traditions that have been the bedrock of water law in the West for more than a century.

The area follows what is known as the Law of Prior Appropriation, which states that whoever first accesses the water and puts it to beneficial use is granted substantial rights to the water. California is the oldest water rights holder in the Colorado River system and is first in order to receive its annual allotment, much to the chagrin of other states.

“These water rights last forever, and in the southwestern United States, they tend to be locked into agriculture,” Craig says. “In fact, about 80% of the water rights in the Southwest are for agriculture, and that plays into how flexible you are with the Colorado River water distribution.

“Reductions across the board may work for the Colorado River itself, but within the states, we still have pre-appropriations to deal with. It looks like a lot of money to spend moving the whole system isn’t on the table.”

California officials have spoken out against the plan, arguing that it sidesteps existing water laws that respect the state’s status as a significant water rights holder.

Hoover Dam drying up

Declining water levels can be seen on the Colorado River behind the Hoover Dam. Credit: Unsplash / CC0 Public Domain

Under this plan, California farmers—particularly those in the Imperial Valley—and consumers would be hit the hardest.

Imperial Valley is the largest producer of alfalfa, or fodder hay, for California’s dairy cows and an important source of the nutrient during the winter months, explains Sean Hiatt, associate professor of business administration at the USC Marshall School of Business. Reduced water allocation in the state will reduce the amount of alfalfa produced as it is the least profitable crop.

Hyatt, an expert on global energy and agribusiness, says a sweeping reduction in the water supply means higher dairy prices.

“California dairies have been struggling due to increased regulatory costs and 60% of pastureland has been destroyed this winter by flooding. It will get worse if they grow less alfalfa and it will drive up dairy prices in the state.”

Option 2: Reductions based on the seniority of water rights

Under this plan, California would retain its superior water rights to the waters of the Colorado River, with the harshest cuts imposed on Arizona and Nevada.

“In this scenario, California wins in the lower Colorado River basin—but the entire lower basin needs to get creative with how to free water from agriculture without impeding farmers’ work or losing food security. In other words, they have to become more efficient in farming,” he says. craig.

Option 3: Do nothing

The US Department of the Interior lists the “alternative to inaction” as one of three options in its latest proposal.

Experts warn that doing nothing could be disastrous for the Colorado River and the regional economy.

No matter how the states and the federal government decide to proceed, doing nothing would mean keeping the Colorado River on the fast track of dead water basin, or levels at which water will no longer flow downstream and through major dams, which generate hydroelectric power. enough to generate energy. The homes of 1.3 million Americans are in the area.

Provided by the University of Southern California

the quote: Colorado River Water Plan Could Lead to Unprecedented Supply Disruptions, Ripple Impacts on Key Industries (2023, April 28) Retrieved April 28, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-colorado-river -trigger-unprecedented-ripple .programming language

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