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Deadline looms for states to submit plans for major cutbacks on Colorado River water

Blue lake surrounded by white stone, with two towers from a dam projecting from the water
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Lake Mead

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has called for the seven states of the Colorado River Basin to make immediate, steep cuts in their water use. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, Monday is the deadline for the states to finalize their plans, but the call has been met with confusion and dismay.

At a Senate hearing in June, Reclamation commissioner Camille Touton (too-tin) applauded existing agreements to deal with water shortages, but also called for additional cuts of 2 to 4 million acre-feet to protect what she called “critical levels” in reservoirs. 4 million acre-feet is about one-third of the Colorado’s annual flow.

Touton requested the states submit conservation plans by mid August. She said, "It is in our authorities to act unilaterally to protect the system, and we will protect the system, but today we are pursuing a path of partnership."

The Arizona Department of Water Resources issued a statement agreeing with the need for immediate action. A spokesperson told KNAU discussions are in “flux” and on “an incredibly compacted timeline.”

The Upper Colorado River Commission, which represents Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, says those states have limited options to make further cuts and asks for “significant actions” in the Lower Basin and Mexico.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen tribes in the Colorado River Basin wrote a letter to the Commissioner saying there has been “no meaningful discussion” with tribal partners.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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