California floated cutting off major southwestern cities of Colorado River water before touching their agricultural supply, sources say



In a closed-door negotiation last week on the fate of the Colorado RiverRepresentatives of California’s powerful water districts proposed to model what the future of the basin would look like if some of the largest cities in the West, including Phoenix and Las Vegas, were cut off from the river’s water supply, three people familiar with the matter told CNN. the conversations.

More than 5 million people in Arizona receive water from the Colorado River, which accounts for 40% of Phoenix’s supply. About 90% of Las Vegas’ water comes from the river.

The proposal arose in a session between states that was focused on achieving unprecedented water cuts to bridge the Colorado River, a system that overall provides water and electricity to more than 40 million people in the West. For months, seven states have been trying to propose cuts to prevent the river system from collapsing.

ace the river shrinkstalks to save it increasingly pit old farmers’ water rights against explosive metropolitan growth.

California was proposing to follow the “river law,” which gives farmers in major agricultural districts first access to water because they have an established priority claim to the rights of other districts, including California cities like Los Angeles, which receive about half of its water from the Colorado River.

The surprising suggestion was met with immediate and strong rejection by other state officials at the negotiating table, the people familiar with the discussions said.

John Enstminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority who was not present for this particular session, told CNN that the proposal was a major concern for public health and safety in western cities.

“If you want to model shutting off most or all of the water supply for 27 million Americans, you can run the exercise, but putting it on the ground would have the worst consequences for almost 10% of the country,” Entsminger said.

Arizona’s top water official, Tom Buschatzke, declined to comment on the closed-door discussion. But he told CNN that Arizona officials would not contemplate completely cutting off Colorado River water to its largest cities and Native American tribes.

“Even in a modeling scenario I would not agree to or ask the federal government to model a scenario where the Central Arizona Project goes to zero,” Buschatzke said. “I won’t do that. The implications would be pretty severe if CAP went to zero. Harsh on tribes, harsh on cities, harsh on industries.”

A source familiar with the meeting disputed that California asked to model the reduction of other agencies and cities down to zero, but stipulated that if California compromised with the demands of other states, it also wanted to see one of the options following the strict current rules of the River. priority system “as default baseline”.

Last year, US Reclamation Office Commissioner Camille Touton asked the seven basin states—California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming—to figure out how to reduce water use. 2 to 4 million acre-feet, or as much as 30% of your river water allotment. She promised that the federal government would intervene if an agreement could not be reached.

The question is who bears the brunt of the unprecedented cuts needed to keep the Colorado River flowing to America’s largest reservoirs. If the feds take a strong hand, it could set the stage for a tense legal battle, all while the nation’s largest reserves continue to dwindle.

Arizona’s perspective is that it thinks California will let them “dry and fly,” a source familiar with the meeting told CNN. California’s perspective, the source added, is: “We fought for a century to preserve our super priority, so why should we give it up now?”

After six other states of the Colorado River Basin launched a proposal for water cuts on MondayCalifornia water agencies submitted a separate, more modest plan to federal officials on Tuesday.

The state is willing to conserve an additional 400,000 acre-feet of water, about 130 billion gallons, per year from 2023 to 2026, according to the plan. Overall, it seeks voluntary reductions in the lower basin of about 1 million acre-feet per year, with California contributing 400,000 acre-feet, Arizona 500,000 acre-feet, Nevada 20,000 acre-feet and Mexico contributing 80,000 acre-feet.

It is almost identical to the plan. the state proposed in Octoberr, and it is less than 10% of the state’s water allocation. California receives the largest Colorado River allocation of any basin state.

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The California proposal would take effect if Lake Mead reached an elevation of 1,000 feet and Lake Powell an elevation of 3,500 feet, precariously close to the the “dead pool” levels of the reservoirswhen the water is so low no longer flow through dams.

California’s proposal mentions “crescent cuts” if Lake Mead elevations drop further, but doesn’t specify by how much.

California’s plan “provides a realistic and implementable framework” that builds “on prior voluntary agreements and collaborative efforts to minimize implementation delays,” said JB Hamby, president of the Colorado River Board for the state and a member of the Imperial Irrigation District board, said in a statement.

Adel Hagekhalil, general manager of the Southern California Metropolitan Water District, said in a statement that the state was committed to the cuts, but “in a way that doesn’t hurt half of the people who depend on the river — the 19 million of people from Southern California.”

“We must do it in a way that doesn’t devastate our $1.6 trillion economy, an economic engine for the entire United States,” Hagekhalil said. “The proposal filed today by California does all of this by equitably sharing risk among the Basin states without adversely affecting any agency or state. The plan presented yesterday, which excludes California, does not.”

California’s proposal is smaller than the plan proposed Monday by the other six basin states, which tops out at 3.1 million acre-feet per year. That six-state model also accounted for water lost to evaporation and leaky river infrastructure.

The six-state plan also proposes to activate if Lake Mead levels hover around 1,050 feet. Lake Mead is currently around 1,047 feet and was down to 1,040 feet last summer.

Several states have told CNN they will try to continue to get a deal they can all support, while acknowledging that the talks thus far have been difficult.

“We are committed to continuing to work collectively as seven basin states,” said Chuck Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

Buschatzke, Arizona’s top water official, called the six-state proposal a “very positive outcome” and said he and others would try to keep talks with California.

“I am committed to continuing to work with all seven states,” Buschatzke said, adding that further talks and negotiations would continue “for the next few months.”

Still, the breakdown of the agreement between California and the rest of the Colorado River Basin raises the possibility that federal officials will introduce their own cuts in the coming months. Buschatzke told CNN that federal officials have not shared much with the states about the amount of cuts they are targeting.

“They have not shared any cumulative stadium with us,” he said. “I think it’s imperative that we know at least the ballpark and eventually the specific number, because there will be less of a gap to close the necessary reductions.”

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