State and local officials are trying to reconcile what they want to do to save the Colorado River basin, the largest manmade reservoir in the country
The Colorado River basin is home to 40 million people and faces a critical year that could determine its future stability.
Failing to do so means either of these lakes, the largest manmade reservoirs in the country, could reach “dead pool” in the next two years, where the water level is too low to flow through the dams and downstream to the communities and farmers that need it.
Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, told CNN that federal officials are preparing for the possibility that they would be sued over mandatory cuts.
Western state officials wrote a letter in May agreeing to leave 1 million acre-feet of water in Lake Powell. They watched as the same amount of water was lost due to system losses.
Tom Buschatzke, top Arizona water official, told CNN that everything they tried to do was wiped out by Mother Nature. “We have to understand that could happen to us again. It’s been happening to us almost every year for the past few years.”
Anxiety is growing in the West as reservoir levels plummet. Negotiations between the states on voluntary water cuts have been tense and closely watched, particularly between the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.
Those talks have stalled amid disagreement on how much water each state should sacrifice and how much money farmers, tribal nations and cities should be paid to reduce their water consumption.
State negotiators are waiting for the feds to make a decision on how to distribute $4 billion in drought relief money, after the Biden administration agreed to pay people to not use water under the Inflation Reduction Act.
But, he says, “it makes it a little more difficult because of the uncertainty and not knowing” what the difference will be between the money the federal government is offering, and the voluntary cuts districts are willing to make.
California’s drought is already drier than it appears: A model for a drought-protected state that hasn’t played with fire
“I think California is playing with fire here,” said David Hayes, a former top climate aide to President Joe Biden, now at Stanford University Law School. The issue is much bigger than any group of water rights holders. The effect of not addressing this issue could be felt in the whole state of California.
If voluntary cuts aren’t enough, the federal government could step in. But that plan would almost assuredly be greeted with a court challenge.
At a December conference of Colorado River water users, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior made a prediction, according to Porter.
This winter is already showing some signs of respite for a state that’s still almost entirely in drought conditions. The big lake in Northern California, Oroville, is slowly being regenerated. The small Folsom Dam saw 40 feet of water increase in three days.
The face of dry spells is not the same. “It’s easier and easier to get into a drought – even following a really wet winter – because we just have that growing evaporative demand and hotter summers.”
It’s not clear how much this storm will make a dent in drought conditions that have persisted in California, which started 2022 with the driest beginning of the year on record and ended it with flooded roads and swelling rivers.
Dry air evaporates water from the soil during extended periods of heat. Water shortages are a result of the air sucks up water from what is left of the Colorado River and there’s only enough rain to fill them.
There is a high likelihood that the lack of rain and low snow are not going away anytime soon. La Niña is expected to persist through the winter, which typically causes the jet stream – upper-level winds that carry storms around the globe – to shift northward. The region that desperately needs it is going to get less rain.
More than 15 million people from the West coast to Illinois are under winter weather advisories due to a powerful storm system that battered California on New Year’s Eve.
The storms are referred to as “atmospheric rivers” because they are a conveyor belt of moist air from the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. The Bay Area was particularly hit by a similar storm that unleashed rains, deadly floods and debris flows over the weekend.
At least two people died in the storm, including one who was found dead inside a completely submerged vehicle Saturday in Sacramento County, and a 72-year-old man who died after being struck by a fallen tree at a Santa Cruz park, according to officials.
There were 103,000 homes and businesses in California and Nevada without power, down from a high of more than 300,000 on Saturday, according to Poweroutage. US.
Northern California Flood Flooding Evacuations During the Fourth Sunday of the February 12 Breakthrough in the Biggs: The Bunch of Snow in the Northern Plains
The snow is expected to fall in the Rockies, the northern Plains, and parts of the Midwest on Monday.
Parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana are at risk of a severe storm with damaging winds, tornadoes and hail on Monday. The storms are expected to start in the afternoon and last through the night.
Emergency crews in the region spent the weekend saving many flood victims by boats and helicopter, along with responding to fallen trees and disabled vehicles in the flooding waters, the fire district said.
An evacuation order was issued Sunday for the rural Sacramento County areas of Point Pleasant, while Glanville Tract and Franklin Pond were under an evacuation warning.
The flooding from the Cosumnes River and Mokelumne River is expected to reach the I-5 areas in the middle of the night.
In California, flood waters forced theevacuation of three communities, and in Santa Cruz County, they had to evacuate as well.
The California Department of Transportation said on its website that the road was closed in case of flooding from the Cosumnes River. Its website states that it’s one of the state’s heavily traveled and commercially important corridors.
Cars were submerged in the flood waters of the Dillard Street area and Highway 99 in the CNN video. Chris Schamber, a fire captain with the Cosumnes Fire Department, told the station “dozens upon dozens” of people had been rescued.
The State of California is Prepared for a Great Storm: High-Surface Clouds and Snow on the West Coast During the Wet Season
The National Weather Service predicts that a weather system will bring some valley rain and mountain snow to the area on Monday and Tuesday.
Sierra locations above 5,000 feet received around 20-45 inches of snow Saturday through early Sunday morning – and another round of lighter snow is on the way.
The latest in the series of storms are expected to reach the coast Wednesday morning, and while the entire state will see impacts by the end of Thursday, Northern California and the Bay Area are likely to see the worst of the weather.
A so-called “bomb cyclone” over the Pacific Ocean – named because of how rapidly it intensifies over a short period of time – will sling a series of fronts at the West Coast. These fronts are being super-fueled with tropical moisture from a potent atmospheric river that stretches west to Hawaii.
According to the National Weather Service, the storm could trigger more widespread flooding, roads washing out, hillside collapsing, fallen trees, major power outages, “immediate disruption to commerce, and the worst of all, likely loss of human life.”
While the increase in water levels in Lake Oroville is good news for Californians, experts say the state needs more precipitation in order to make up for the yearslong deficit from the historic Western Drought.
Even though the storms bring in some hazard, they are needed more than ever to alleviate the aridity that is afflicting the United States.
“However, for every day it doesn’t rain or snow during our wettest months, we are drying out,” Margaret Mohr, deputy director of communications for the California Department of Water Resources, told CNN.
“We haven’t seen the mega floods, but we have definitely seen hints of increasingly extreme precipitation even in the middle of what has otherwise been a period characterized by a pretty severe and persistent drought,” Swain said.
Despite the wet start to the year, last year was relatively much more wet than this time, and the state was still in a bad situation for the rest of the year.
Two years in a row, the Great Salt Lake has dropped to record-low levels. The report notes that the lake has been losing water and exposing its lakebed and is now 19 feet below its natural average level.
The report stated that its disappearance could cause immense damage to Utah’s public health, environment, and economy. “The choices we make over the next few months will affect our state and ecosystems throughout the West for decades to come.”
The lake has a ecosystems that is not only on the edge of collapse. It is collapsing,” Benjamin Abbott, a professor of ecology at Brigham Young University and lead author of the report, told CNN. “It’s honestly jaw-dropping and totally disarming to see how much of the lake is gone. The lake is mostly lakebed right now.”
He said that it was a bellwether for what was going on in the larger river basins. “We need to lay out some very clear language about where we’re headed.”
The Colorado River needs more water to reverse the Great Salt Lake’s decline, but the US Supreme Court will have no fewer than 1 million acres
The report shows that the lake needs an additional 1 million acres of water every year to reverse the decline. Doing so would up its average inflow to roughly 2.5 million acre-feet per year. (An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover 1 acre of land a foot deep — roughly 326,000 gallons.)
“We really encourage everyone from an individual water user up to the governor’s office and the federal government to focus on conservation,” Abbott said. “That is the only way that we can get enough water to the Great Salt Lake in time to save it.”
The impacts are widespread. The state economy and critical habitat for species is in danger with the lake’s decline. The Great Salt Lake contributes more than a billion dollars to the economy every year. The economic toll would be higher if the lake doesn’t get any water in the next year.
The rapid drying of the lakebed also exposes harmful dust that could harm human health. Terminal lakes, like the Great Salt Lake, are ones where water can flow into but not out of the basin. When strong winds blow over the drying lakebeds, they can kick up tiny particles that can damage the lungs and make you sick. These pollutants have been linked to health complications such as asthma, heart disease and chronic bronchitis.
While officials have discussed different strategies to increase the lake’s levels – including building pipelines, using cloud-seeding technology or even groundwater extraction – the report’s authors urge lawmakers to instead focus on ramping up conservation efforts, noting it is the “most cost-effective and resilient response” to restore the lake.
Behind the rift is a decades-long, rancorous relationship between California and Arizona that has collided with a river system in crisis due to years of overuse and climate change-fueled drought.
The six basin states released a proposed model on Monday for how much Colorado River water could be cut, which could be as much as 3.1 million acre feet annually. That model accounts for the water lost to evaporation and leaky river infrastructure.
It is possible that the water battle will end up in the US Supreme Court, especially if the feds propose steep cuts for California and its water districts believe their senior water rights are under threat. The Imperial Irrigation District has a senior right to Colorado River water which is a priority claim because it was established before other districts.
Six states are moving forward with approaches that don’t harmonize with the law, which is troubling. If you have six states approaching things in this way, it increases the risk of litigation, but it is best to avoid it.
Negotiations and outside observers are expecting this year to see litigation at the Supreme Court because of the difficult to reach state consensus and pressure on the federal government to act.
Wade Noble, a lawyer for the farmers and irrigation districts from Arizona, told CNN he didn’t know if the Supreme Court would take it. I think lawyers want to make sure their legal team has Supreme Court experience. These are the types of issues that get there.
It was the priority of who was legal first in line for water that made it so difficult for California and Arizona to agree on water cuts.
In recent negotiations, the team will not compromise on history, position and things that people have worked for over a century to protect. “Doing away with the priority approach is not something that’s acceptable.”
“Decisions to cut back water deliveries below the Hoover Dam cannot wait for a complex water rights case to be litigated up through the Supreme Court. That can take years,” Hayes said. “Plus, no legal decision will solve the fundamental problem of insufficient water. That reality needs to be faced.”
The Colorado River provides 40% of Phoenix’s supply and is served by more than 5 million people in Arizona. The majority of the water in Las Vegas comes from the river.
California Water Proposal: The Case for a Zero-Capital Area and the Implications for Public Health and Safety in Western Cities
The eye-popping suggestion was met with strong and immediate pushback from other state officials at the negotiating table, the people familiar with the discussions said.
John Enstminger, the general manager for Southern Nevada Water Authority who was not present at the session, told CNN that the proposal was a significant concern for public health and safety in Western cities.
If you want to model cutting off all of the water supply for 27 million Americans, you can go through the exercise, but you need to do it on the ground.
Buschatzke said he would not agree to a scenario in which the central Arizona project goes to zero, even under a modeling scenario. “I will not do that. The implications would be pretty severe if CAP went to zero. For tribes and cities, it’s severe.
Arizona’s perspective is that it thinks California will let them “dry up and blow away,” one source familiar with the meeting told CNN. California’s perspective, the source added, is: “We fought for a century to preserve our super-priority, why should we give it up now?”
But multiple states told CNN that they are going to try to continue to get an agreement everyone can support, while acknowledging talks so far have been difficult.
“We’re committed to continuing to work collectively as seven basin states,” said Chuck Cullom, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.
The proposal of six states was a very positive outcome and Buschatzke said he would be trying to keep conversations going with California.
Buschatzke added there would be more conversations and negotiations over the next few months.
State Water Project Director Karla Nemeth: “It’s not gonna be that dry,” she explained during February Rain and Storms in Lake Oroville
“They haven’t shared with us any cumulative ballpark,” he said. It is essential that we know the ballpark at least and eventually thespecific number because this will allow us to close the necessary reductions.
The rain and storms that hit California last month have given the state’s water resources a boost. After several years of hovering at critically low levels, officials say it is a much-needed improvement.
The before-and-after photos show a dramatic increase in the percentage of the historical average, which stands at 115% as of this week.
The before images show a “bathtub ring” of dirt around the edge of the lake, marking how far the water levels had fallen. After the pictures were taken, the bathtub ring was underwater again.
“A lot of uncertainty remains about the next two months and water managers are maintaining reservoirs to hold as much water supply as possible while also managing flood control requirements and preparing for spring runoff.”
The total capacity fell to just 24% in the year 2021. The water level in the lake was below boat ramps and exposed intake pipes used to power the plant.
The plant is the fourth-largest hydroelectric energy producer statewide, according to the California Energy Commission, with the ability to power up to 800,000 homes when operating at full capacity. About 13% of the state’s electricity was generated by hydroelectric power plants as of 2018.
Although Oroville’s water levels remained well below average in 2022, storms last winter brought record-breaking precipitation to the Sierra Nevada, which gave the lake’s levels a much-needed boost.
The California Department of Water Resources operates the State Water Project system, which includes Lake Oroville, and provides water to 29 public water agencies serving 27 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland.
In the wake of the winter’s storms, California state water officials said that they will increase allocated water deliveries to 30% of requested water supplies.
Karla Nemeth, director of the Department of Water Resources, warned during the state’s February 1 snowpack survey this month was not looking promising for more rain and snow.
“I will point out that this is a traditional wet month that is actually starting off pretty dry — and given where the forecasts are, that dryness is expected to continue,” she said.
The timing of peakprecipitation is also changing because of the climate. We don’t know whether or not this is the peak of the snowpack, and that is an important information point that helps us manage water in California.
Lake Powell is the largest reservoirs in the country because it is fed by the Colorado River. In the last year, there have been mandatory water cuts for Western states because of record low water levels in both lakes. Lake Powell hit a new record-low this month, and Lake Mead has been hovering just above its record low set last year.
It’s all an example of how human-caused climate change is transforming water systems around the world, cranking up temperatures and making droughts more severe and frequent.