Three on water

Sometimes the morning clips from the state Department of Water Resources are really something. The following articles add to our understanding of the Colorado River dispute. What reporters were too polite to mention is the Secretary of Interior Gail Norton is a former Colorado state official.   Nevada offers money to end water impasse San Diego Union Tribune - 8/28/03 By Michael Gardner, staff writer, Copley News Service SACRAMENTO Nevada has quietly stepped in with a surprise offer of $82 million to help California seal an elusive landmark deal to share the Colorado River and bring a vast new supply of water to the San Diego region. The proposal is being touted in some circles as a possible breakthrough in the stalled talks.Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority that serves the Las Vegas region, said the offer was made to break the impasse and assure Nevada of water during drought. Talks have deadlocked since the Metropolitan Water District, the Los Angeles-based wholesaler, balked over paying $82 million to help restore the Salton Sea. MWD officials say it could gain more water at a cheaper price by tapping reserves, conservation and desalination. "Metropolitan may notneed the water but we sure do," Mulroy said. In return for the $82 million, Nevada could store up to 330,000 acre-feet of water cumulatively in California over the next 15 to 20 years. An acre-foot is enough water to supply two households for a year. "According to the parties, this is the only thing keeping us apart," Mulroy said. Another participant in the negotiations described the agencies as "achingly close" to an agreement. Nevada stands to lose a share of its annual allotment of 300,000 acre-feet from the Colorado if California does not agree to a river-sharing deal. Bennett Raley, the Bush administration's lead negotiator, called Nevada's proposal "an intriguing concept." "We hope the California entities study it very carefully," he said. "It was quite productive for Nevada to make that offer." If talks over the broader river accord collapse, the San Diego County Water Authority's bid to buy up to 200,000 acre-feet annually from Imperial Valley farmers will be imperiled. Meanwhile, environmentalists say they have pieced together a plan that also could lead to compromise. That plan would put the state in the water marketing business by setting up a process for California to buy water from Imperial farmers. Profits of about $300 million would mostly go to restore the Salton Sea, which is nourished by farm runoff and supports a vital bird preserve straddling Riverside and Imperial counties. The San Diego County Water Authority and the Imperial Irrigation District would be required to pay for reducing the effects of the water sale on the sea and river environs. That would solve MWD's concerns over being billed for environmental cleanup. California is under intense pressure to stop its bickering over the Colorado River or it could permanently lose up to 800,000 acre-feet of water a year. For years California has taken more than its share of the river, but other Western states, such as Nevada, looked the other way. Faced with critical shortages and booming growth, the states are clamoring for California to curb its excess draw. Interior Secretary Gale Norton reduced deliveries to California this year by more than 600,000 acre-feet.#   Divvying Up the Mighty Colorado Demands Exist on Every Drop of Water in the River Part 2 of National Public Radio series "Water in the West: Survival in an Arid Land" Broadcast 8/27/03 What do a glass of water in Los Angeles, a sprinkler in Phoenix, a toilet in Denver and a fountain in Las Vegas have in common? It's likely that much of the water in each comes from the same place: the Colorado River. The Colorado distributes more water to users both in and outside of its basin than any other river system in the world. As NPR's Elizabeth Arnold reports, every drop of the river -- and then some -- has already been promised to someone, somewhere. Twenty-five million people in seven Western states and Mexico rely on the flow of the Colorado River; 30 million depend on electricity from the hydropower it generates. So many demands exist on the river's water that what starts out as a trickle of snow melt in Wyoming's Wind River Range rarely reaches its natural destination in the Sea of Cortez. Ten major dams and 80 major diversions leave nothing but a salt flat at the river's mouth. The history of the Colorado is as colorful as it is controversial. In 1869, the man who first scouted it, Major John Wesley Powell, declared that "there is not sufficient water to irrigate all the lands which could be irrigated." But others who settled in the West disagreed, and by the 20th century, massive projects were underway to dam and divert the river. As commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation during the era of the big dams, Floyd Dominy presided over the plumbing of the Colorado. His blueprint was what came to be known as the law of the river, a 1922 compact that split Western states into an upper and lower basin, dividing Colorado River water equally between them. It was an insurance policy for the upper basin states - Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico -- whose representatives worried that the faster-growing lower basin states -- California, Nevada and Arizona - would use more water and win legal claim to it. Because the river's flow fluctuated widely from year to year, Dominy fought hard for the last and most controversial of the big dams, Glen Canyon. The Colorado River Compact requires upper basin states to produce 7.5 million acre-feet of water each year. (Just one acre-foot is enough to cover a football field one foot deep.) "Glen Canyon [Dam] is absolutely essential to supply that steady flow of water from the good to the bad years," Dominy says. Today, Glen Canyon Dam is the physical manifestation of the Colorado River Compact. But there's just one problem. When the deal was worked out, it was a high-water year. The amount of water in the river was hugely overestimated. Add to that a five-year drought, and the Colorado is working overtime. It's over-promised, over-committed and overdrawn. Attorney Bill Swan is right in the middle of the tension that situation creates. He's helped negotiate agreements between the states over water for more than 30 years. He says currently the strain is between Colorado and California. "Colorado probably produces 70 percent of the water in the whole river, but Colorado has an entitlement that's smaller than the state of California," Swan says. "California contributes no water to the river… If you're Colorado, you kind of think it's your river. You don't like the fact that you provide the water to a state down below that doesn't… contribute anything to the river... it just doesn't make you feel good." Some Colorado officials are thinking about reviving the era of big projects with a massive diversion called the "Big Straw." It would suck up the Colorado River's water before it ever reaches California and pump it east 200 miles up and over the Rocky Mountains to the densely populated front range. Two other huge pipeline projects are being discussed in Arizona and Utah. Estimates suggest all three projects would divert some 50,000 acre feet of water a year. The dispute over the distribution of the Colorado River embodies critical issues in the region: the over-appropriation of water and the rapidly changing face of the West, compounded by population growth and ecological needs. There are those who believe market forces will solve the problem, for example, by allowing farmers -- whose legal rights to the river trump those of others -- to sell water to cities. There are those who believe the answer lies in a continuation of the dam era, with bigger, bolder, more efficient water projects. And there are even those who believe the Colorado River should simply be set free, the Glen Canyon Dam torn down. Clinton administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit, a former governor of Arizona, says he believes there's enough water to accommodate all of these views. "We've demonstrated our capacity to manage and alter natural systems to our hearts' content," Babbit says. "If we can build Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon… and all these gigantic canals, we certainly have the capacity to revisit the system and… set up markets to reallocate water more efficiently and make a public commitment to get some of that water back in these rivers. We can say to our children, 'you know, the river still runs to the sea.'" Links to other parts of the series:   Groups begin campaigns on $2 billion debate over Colorado’s water future created KUSA-TV, Denver - 8/27/03 By Adam Schrager, reporter DENVER - Supporters and opponents of Referendum A kicked off their campaigns on Wednesday and you are likely to hear from them by phone, mail or TV commercials before the November Election. The referendum calls for $2 billion to finance water projects in Colorado. Both sides agree more water storage is needed in the state; the debate is whether Referendum A is the solution to that problem. The fight is pitting the Western Slope against the Front Range, water-rights holders against water-rights seekers and environmentalists against developers. Supporters say Referendum A is needed to prevent future droughts, while opponents say it's fiscally irresponsible to spend so much money on un-named projects. "The problem with Referendum A is it does not define what project we're talking about. In fact, I like to refer to Referendum A as the great water riddle of 2003," said Rep. Matt Smith, R-Grand Junction. A group called Save Colorado’s Water is hurrying to inform voters about the referendum. Under the proposal, the state could issue $2 billion in revenue bonds to finance, as of now, un-named water projects approved by the state's water conservation board. "What I’d like to be able to do is store more of Colorado’s water before we send it off to California and Arizona," said Gov. Bill Owens. The governor says passing Referendum A would mean that instead of seeing Arizona lawns watered with Colorado River water, the bonds could help build a storage facility to capture the state's legal allotment of the Colorado River currently leaving the state.