Following western states’ continued failure to reach agreement on how to reduce their water usage, the Biden administration outlined three options for addressing the Colorado River crisis on Tuesday — none of them good, one that upends decades of precedent, and one that everyone agrees is very bad.
The supplemental environmental impact statement released by DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation proposes: (1) do nothing and retain the status quo (an option all parties agree is untenable), (2) cut Colorado River usage according to the seniority of users’ water rights (which would benefit California’s agricultural regions at the expense of Phoenix and Los Angeles water supplies), and (3) cut water usage by equal percentages across the board. DOI did not indicate which option it prefers.
Decades of overuse of the Colorado River based on impossibly optimistic supply assumptions and centuries of racism and violence across what is now the American West — all exacerbated by a climate-fueled megadrought far too severe to be alleviated by one wet winter — have pushed the river to a crisis in which it may cease to flow without drastic action. “We have 19th-century laws, we have 20th century infrastructure, and we have 21st-century climate,” John Entsminger, the lead negotiator for Nevada, told the New York Times. “And those three things don’t fit very well together.” (New York Times $, Washington Post $, AP, E&E News, Politico, CNN; Climate Signals background: Western megadrought)