Column | Don’t blame Upper Basin states | Kingman Daily Miner

Kyle Roerink’s current “Writers on the Range” opinion (“A dangerous game of chicken on the Colorado River”) reminds one in every of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1983 warning in a Washington Post op-ed: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

Roerink, who heads the Great Basin Water Network, claims that the Upper Colorado River Basin states are shirking their duties whereas the Lower Basin states valiantly work to grapple with the continuing basin-wide drought. “With (reservoir) water savings gone,” he says, “the Lower Basin has been trying to cope, though the Upper Basin carries on business as usual.”

“Business as usual” within the Upper Basin has at all times been coping with the realities of an erratic river, the annual flows of which may go from 5.8 million acre-feet in 1977 to 24.8 million acre-feet in 1984. The Upper Basin lives with that actuality, dry years and moist.

But the Bureau of Reclamation has frequently and faithfully launched to the Lower Basin, from Powell Reservoir, the Colorado River Compact and Mexican Treaty allotments – 8.23 million acre-feet solely dropping somewhat under these allotments half a dozen occasions since Powell started to fill within the Nineteen Sixties. Dry yr or moist, the Lower Basin at all times will get its full allotment.

Usually, greater than that designated amount is shipped to the Lower Basin (as a lot as 12 million acre-feet above in 1984). The Compact and Mexican Treaty require that the Upper Basin ship downriver 82.5 million acre-feet over a 10-year interval; as of 2020, the 10-year working whole was 92.5 million acre-feet.

So the Lower Basin by no means bears the brunt of low flows, as Roerink claims; it has at all times obtained its Compact and Treaty allocations since Powell Reservoir crammed, often with some further, no matter what was occurring within the “real river” the Upper Basin states dwell with.

It is true that the Lower Basin states are presently “‘trying to cope” with river shortages by making some troublesome cutbacks of their makes use of. But what they’re attempting to deal with is their very own extreme use of the water saved in Mead Reservoir.

For a long time the three downstream states – primarily California – have been utilizing significantly greater than their Compact allotment of seven.5 million acre-feet; they’ve additionally not been subtracting from their allotment the numerous losses to evaporation in desert storage and transit (robotically figured into Upper Basin use by means of the Powell releases).

This has resulted in what’s euphemistically known as a “structural deficit,” however is simply the Lower Basin utilizing extra water than its entitlement. That was kind of okay earlier than the Upper Basin use was absolutely developed, and earlier than the Central Arizona Project got here on-line; the Bureau’s further releases, above Compact necessities, coated the overuse. No extra.

So now the Lower Basin states, which have been drawing an annual common of 1.2 million acre-feet extra out of Mead Reservoir than has flowed into it, try to convey their utilization all the way down to the precise Compact allotment. Drought may exacerbate that problem, but it surely doesn’t trigger it, nor does Upper Basin lollygagging.

The Upper Basin has not even used its full Compact allocation as a result of it grew to become apparent that the river couldn’t provide that on a reliable foundation. The Upper Colorado River Compact divides the Upper Basin states’ permissible consumptive makes use of by percentages slightly than a set quantity just like the Lower Basin will get, however precisely what that permits every state is clearly ambiguous, relying on what “average flow” is used.

Are the Upper Basin states doing their half to make sure prudent makes use of of the river? They are creating “demand management” packages to pay farmers and ranchers to fallow a few of their land to extend flows to Powell Reservoir. Last summer time, Blue Mesa Reservoir’s recreation season was minimize quick to ship a lot of the Reservoir’s water all the way down to bolster Powell.

Denver Water can also be working arduous to re-plumb its metropolis for reuse, in addition to working an ongoing conservation program that has lowered their deliveries to a 1970 degree with half 1,000,000 extra folks.

Could the Upper Basin states be doing extra? Probably, and so they most likely might be. But they’re much less guilty for the Lower Basin state’s dilemmas than are the Lower Basin states themselves.

(George Sibley is a contributor to Writers on the Range,, a nonprofit devoted to spurring full of life dialogue about Western points. He has written extensively in regards to the Colorado River.)

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