News Feature | April 26, 2018

States Spar Over Colorado River Use

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Four states made accusations this month that Arizona’s largest water provider manipulates supply and demand on the Colorado River.

“The four states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — plus Denver’s water utility said the Central Arizona Project was trying to avoid a reduction in its share of the Colorado River while others are voluntarily cutting back to avoid a crisis amid a prolonged drought,” the Associated Press reported.

“But officials from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District insist they are operating within the rules of the river as they deliver water through their Central Arizona Project canals to Phoenix, Tucson and farms in between,” The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

The interpretation of agreed-upon guidelines is pivotal to the disagreement.

“The dispute centers on interpretations of a set of guidelines water managers agreed to in 2007, which called for conservation and a basin-wide approach to water management. Those guidelines are also linked to the fate of the watershed’s two biggest reservoirs: Lake Powell and Lake Mead. If Mead drops too low, Powell sends more water to balance it out,” KJZZ reported.

Colby Pellegrino, Colorado River programs manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, described the tensions.

“I think there’s been some mincing of words,” he said, per the Las Vegas newspaper. “People have to sit down and talk these things through. We achieve certainty through collaboration.”

Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water, was clear about how he views the situation.

“It’s one water user taking advantage of a situation for their own benefit, to the detriment of a river that supplies nearly 40 million people,” he said, per the AP.

KJZZ noted that public clashes play an essential role in water management.

“The [enforcement] mechanism is usually a social mechanism,” said Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. “And the mechanism is all of the other parties get in your face and say, ‘Hey, come on. This isn’t really the spirit of what we’re doing here, let’s get back to working cooperatively.’”