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Sen. Kelly urges federal action amid stalled Colorado River agreement

Associated Press | John Locher
Lake Mead, along with Lake Powell, are at historic lows as extreme drought threatens the Colorado River.

Arizona Senator Mark Kelly is urging the U.S. Department of the Interior to force an agreement between western states to forestall a major water crisis on the Colorado River. He wants officials to withhold federal drought mitigation funds from California until a deal is struck.

Kelly is proposing withholding funds for a project on California’s Salton Sea until officials agree to conserve more water. The state is the largest river user and will cut 9 percent beginning in January. But Kelly says that’s not enough as Arizona will give up 20% of its allocation.

"We get 2.8 million acre-feet of water a year from the Colorado River every year. California gets 4.4 million," says Kelly. "Combined with our cut from the Drought Contingency Plan and you add onto that what we’ve offered—substantial offer. But this can’t be on the backs of Arizona. California needs to really step up here."

In a letter this week to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Kelly says the longer officials wait to broker an agreement between upper and lower basin states and Mexico the harder the water crisis will be to solve.

Lakes Powell and Mead have fallen to their lowest levels ever amid extreme drought. Federal officials in June asked several western states to reach an agreement to avoid a major water shortage, but to date no deal has been reached. 40 million people in the West are dependent on the Colorado River and it’s a critical source of water for the nation’s food supply.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.