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Colorado River Users Could Face Shortage in 2015

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BOULDER, Colo. — Deep spring snowpack in parts of the West has given states in the Colorado River basin some relief from drought, but water officials said Thursday there’s still work to do to keep water flowing from faucets in the future.

Before this year, there was a “serious possibility” that a shortage would be declared next year of water for California, Arizona and Nevada, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor said. That has been deferred until at least 2015, he said.

Nevertheless Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which together can store up to 50 million acre-feet of water, are still not full, and there’s no guarantee reservoirs will be full by the next drought.

“There is a precarious balance between supply and demand, and it’s getting worse,” Connor said at a conference at the University of Colorado Law School.

Through years of tough talks, the basin states of Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico have reached some agreements on sharing water.

Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said one of the next challenges for the states is further negotiations with Mexico over the Colorado River.

Pat Tyrrell, state engineer for the upper river basin state of Wyoming, agreed.

“Just because we’re not neighbors doesn’t mean that anything that happens between the states and Mexico won’t reverberate into the upper states,” he said.

The Colorado River system provides municipal water for more than 30 million people in the seven Colorado River basin states. It also irrigates nearly 4 million acres, and hydropower facilities along the river provide more than 4,200 megawatts of capacity.

That has left water managers to balance tourism, recreation, agricultural, municipal and environmental interests in sharing the river.

“Open dialogue, as painful as it can be, is the best approach for lasting solutions,” Connor said.

 

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