The river and electricity

You can argue  that senior facilities in the Coachella Valley are not ecologically sound or even healthy, given the temperatures around Palm Sprimgs and Indio in the summertime, and, speaking as a resident of such a facility, I would agree with you but I came down here for family reasons. But, if hydroelectric power from Glen Canyon is interrupted, I can guarantee that some lives will end without air-conditioning in Southern California. -- blj

On the Colorado River the feds carry a big stick. Will the states get hit?
KUNC | By Luke Runyon
Published July 19, 2022 at 4:39 PM MDT

Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, is projected to decline as 2022 progresses, triggering responses from both state and federal officials.
The seven Colorado River basin states have until mid-August to come up with a plan to drastically cut their water use. Federal officials say the cuts are necessary to keep the river’s giant reservoirs from declining to levels where water cannot be released through their dams and hydropower production ceases. If state leaders fail to devise a plan, they could face a federal crackdown.

But while federal intervention is a key feature of Colorado River governance and management, to cajole stubborn water users into negotiating — it’s rarely tested. That leaves users along the river from Colorado to California to wonder just how serious the federal government is when it threatens unilateral actions.

The federal government’s charge to users to conserve two to four million acre-feet of water came from Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton, who sat before a Senate committee in June. She gave the states 60 days to respond with a plan.

Later that same week, the Interior Department’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Tanya Trujillo, spoke to a gathering of water leaders in Boulder, Colorado, and gave more detail on the river’s supply-demand imbalance and what her department planned to do about it.

Without an unprecedented conservation among the states, the river is rapidly approaching a catastrophe, Trujillo said. Two to four million acre-feet is a staggering amount of water conservation. Even at the low end of that range, two million acre-feet is about the same amount the entire state of Colorado uses from the river in a year. That’s more than six times what the state of Nevada uses.

“We're going to likely be in a situation of doing things we've never done before,” Trujillo said over a remote video connection to the Boulder conference attendees.

Trujillo later asked what the mood of the room was like. “It’s glum,” responded moderator John Fleck of the University of New Mexico.

If the states don’t meet this summer’s deadline and make firm commitments to conserve, Trujillo made it clear — the federal government is prepared to step in. Trujillo said she has instructed her staff to prepare lists of potential actions her department could take if the states do not meet their deadline. Reclamation staff declined to provide more detail of what is on those lists, and declined interview requests for this story.

“At Interior, we have an obligation to protect the physical infrastructure that we own and operate so that we can ensure it will continue to operate,” Trujillo said.

That infrastructure includes the Colorado River’s two massive reservoirs — Lakes Mead and Powell. Combined, the two reservoirs are part of a river system that provides drinking water to 40 million people in seven western states — California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming.

Warming temperatures due to climate change and persistent demand for water have sent the two reservoirs to record lows. Both are in jeopardy of dropping to levels where hydropower shuts off and water can’t move through their dams.

But even as the crisis worsens, it is unclear who ultimately holds the reins: the federal government or the states. Federal pressure has brought together nearly every modern agreement to manage scarcity on the river that’s reeling from 22 years of below-average flows. The 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement, the 2007 Interim Guidelines and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans all coalesced under the threat of federal intervention. For all of those deals, the threats never turned into action.

As the August 15 deadline approaches, some river experts doubt the states’ ability to finish a deal.

“I think that’s a heavy lift,” said Terry Fulp, who ran Lower Colorado River operations for the Bureau of Reclamation for eight years.

This current moment fits into a longstanding tension between the federal government and the states, Fulp said. When a crisis takes hold on the river, federal officials use the threat of intervention to keep the conversations moving. But Fulp said this time may be different.

“It'll be a big surprise for me if, by August, the partners come in with a plan,” he said.