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Executive Summary for April 20th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including a heated disagreement among Colorado River basin states, new ideas for the Salton Sea, and a climate change lawsuit in Colorado.

Published on April 20, 2018 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Controversy on the Colorado River

Tensions are mounting over concern that an Arizona water agency is gaming the system used for managing Colorado River water that is shared between seven U.S. states and Mexico.

In the U.S., water on the river is divided between the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico and the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada. Water distribution is balanced by sending water from Lake Powell downstream to Lake Mead to prevent Lake Mead from dropping too low and triggering a shortage declaration. While states have been working collectively to avoid a shortage during an 18-year drought, it seems that in Arizona some water managers may have been playing by a different set of rules.

“The Upper Basin states now claim the Central Arizona Project (CAP) is manipulating its share in a way that keeps Lake Mead low enough that the Upper Basin is required to send extra water, but high enough to avoid mandatory cutbacks in Lower Basin consumption,” the Associated Press reported.

As John Fleck, who has been closely following the issue, wrote on his blog, “It would be weird for Arizona to not try to use the rules, negotiated by all, to best advantage. What’s awkward right now is the brazenly public way CAP has been talking about this, managing Mead’s ‘sweet spot’ by not over-conserving water.”

The Upper Basin states responded with a letter saying the Arizona agency was putting the water supply for 40 million people at risk and endangering basin-wide conservation efforts.

New Ideas of the Salton Sea

California is reviewing 11 proposals for ways in which to help save the shrinking Salton Sea by importing water, the Desert Sun reported.

Last year, the state approved a 10-year management plan to try and stave off the worst of the ecological and health impacts expected as the saline lake in southern California shrinks and exposes more and more dust.

Now, the state is also considering submitted proposals to augment the lake by importing water from likely either the Sea of Cortez or the Pacific Ocean. “All the submissions proposed importing water to cover more of the sea’s toxic dust-ridden playa, but beyond that, ideas varied on what kind of infrastructure is needed and how it should be funded,” according to the Desert Sun.

Water at Heart of Climate Lawsuit

The city and county of Boulder, Colorado, along with San Miguel County, Colorado, have filed a lawsuit against two fossil fuel companies over climate change costs, InsideClimate News reported.

The lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Suncor is seeking regulation of emissions from fossil fuel production and the counties are the first inland areas that are suing over climate change – previous cities that have filed lawsuits have cited rising sea levels as a concern.

At the heart of the issue, though, is still water – just a different kind.

The suit “points to the dwindling snowpack, which is critical for the state’s agriculture, water supply and $5 billion ski industry,” InsideClimate News reported. “It also raises concerns about the loss of water flow into the Colorado River, and about extreme summer heat, wildfires and droughts.”

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