Senators form bipartisan Colorado River caucus as tensions rise in West over water crisis

As the Colorado River plunges further into crisis and tensions mount over how to divide painful water cuts among western states, a bipartisan group of senators is formalizing a new caucus to examine whether Washington How can help?

What began as an informal group convened by Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado has grown into a council of senators representing seven Colorado River states — Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California and Nevada, according to Hickenlooper’s office. Group details are shared with the first.

What to do about the shrinking Colorado River and the disappearing waters of America’s largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, has become an increasingly pressing issue for these western senators. The river’s water sustains 40 million people, some of the largest cities in the West, and major agricultural centers.

“I think the Senate should be a partner with the states,” Hickenlooper said. “Additional resources may be needed to address this. I think most experts believe it’s not just drought — there is some level of aridity, desertification.”

Experts have previously pointed out that the term “drought” may be insufficient to fully describe the transformation the West is facing. Eric Cohen, a retired former manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, has said that “iridification” — a change to a drier climate — is likely more accurate.

Discussions among lawmakers are in the early stages, but some senators are considering ways to provide additional financial assistance to states and water users that may face significant water shortages. . Democrats approved $4 billion in drought relief funds for states, tribal nations and farmers in the Inflation Relief Act last year. This money is being distributed by the federal government.

The senators are also hoping to ease tensions between California and six other basin states, which have been deadlocked over how to spread water cuts needed to save the Colorado River. A group of six states recently issued a proposal to cut millions of acre-feet of river water, while California separately issued a smaller proposal that maintains higher water rights for its agricultural users.

Senator Michael Bennett, a Democrat from Colorado, said he sees the upcoming farm bill as a vehicle to get more funding for western water conservation programs. Senators will “think about what the future financing looks like,” Bennett said.

So far, the group has shown little willingness for Congress to intervene in other ways, such as clarifying or expanding the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s ability to make unilateral cuts to Colorado River water.

“Federally-mandated settlements and litigation will leave everyone badly off,” Arizona independent Sen. Kristen Sinema said in a statement. “The Colorado River belongs to all of us and we either fail or succeed as a region.”

Two Colorado River experts said it might be wise for the Senate to focus on funding to pass laws that would weigh on the cuts themselves.

“The most important thing Congress can do is provide funding that allows all water users and states to agree on a plan moving forward,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyle Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. I help.”

Michael Cohen, a Colorado River expert at the Pacific Institute, a California-based water nonprofit, agreed that more funding could ease interstate tensions.

“Additional funding will reduce anger and make it easier for additional water users to participate,” Cohen said. “That’s the key.”

Although Congress already approved $4 billion for drought relief last year, experts and senators alike say more is needed.

“Do I think we’re going to need more than $4 billion? Yes,” said Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat of Nevada. Something has to be done.”

Cohen added that Congress could play a role in the U.S.-Mexico negotiations over the division of that country’s Colorado River.

But Porter acknowledged that more funding to pay people to reduce their water use is a short-term solution. The longer-term – and far thornier – issue is how farmers, cities and tribes will sustainably reduce their water use. Porter added that there will be lawsuits against Congress weighing in on the Colorado River Compact, created more than 100 years ago. The agreement among states is a complex agreement between states about how and when cuts will be made with water shortages – and who has priority rights over them.

“These pre-compact rights are part of a whole knot that needs to be untangled here,” Porter said. “(Congressional) legislation probably can’t do much about it, and I’m sure there would be litigation if it tried.”

The split between California and the six other basin states is reflected in the Senate.

In a joint statement last week, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla — both Democrats — wrote that “six other western states dictating how much water California should release is not a true consensus solution.”

Padilla said in a statement that he will work with other western senators to help secure additional money “to meet the long-term water needs of our communities.”

“All senators have a role to play when it comes to encouraging and facilitating difficult, but necessary, changes in our respective states to better balance the water needs of cities, agriculture and wildlife,” Padilla said. It has to be paid.”

Hickenlooper and other senators said they hope the group can ultimately help avoid an escalating legal battle between states and the federal government if the Bureau of Reclamation has to step in and implement its cuts. That seems more likely because seven states have repeatedly failed to reach an agreement, with California a notable holdout.

“We don’t have time to go through the courts and then appeal and sort this out,” Hickenlooper said. “I think there’s a real push to solve our own problems without litigating.”

Read full article here

Related Articles

Latest Posts