The term of the agreement to face the drought of the Colorado River expires

Seven states in the eastern United States and two in Mexico failed to meet a water saving deadline agreed in June to combat low water levels in the Colorado River, from which they are supplied. All this in the midst of a mega-drought due to the high temperatures recorded this summer. Other states of the two countries also announce a critical situation.

The Colorado River, one of the most important for the United States, has its source in the north of the state that bears the same name and once had a strong continuous flow until it emptied into the Gulf of California, in Mexico.

Today the panorama is bleak, the high temperatures of the last two decades and the fiery summer of this year have caused its levels to drop to levels never seen before.

The US states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora are being severely affected, since much of their water and energy supply depends on the flow of the Colorado River.

File photo. A previously sunken boat sits upright in the air with its stern caught in mud along the shoreline of Lake Mead at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Friday, June 10, 2022, near Boulder City, Nevada. AP—John Locher

Previously in June, the United States Recovery Office gave a period of 60 days, which expired on Tuesday, August 16, to design a plan in which they manage to reduce at least 15% of water consumption for the next year. .

“Despite the obvious urgency of the situation, the last 62 days have not exactly produced anything in terms of meaningful collective action to help prevent the looming crisis,” one of the negotiators, John Entsminger, said in an open letter.

The river is the main water supply for some 40 million people, about 70% of the resource is used for irrigation and is the source for 90% of the vegetables that are consumed during the winter in the United States.

Because of the breach, cities and rural areas in the implicated US states are bracing for water cuts this week. In the coming days, the authorities must discuss the equitable distribution of resources and whether to favor large cities or agricultural areas.

“We are taking action to protect the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for their lives and livelihoods,” said Camille Touton, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.

A shared responsibility and the need for joint action

For years there has been a dispute between the states of the United States over responsibility for measures to protect the Colorado River. Utah Colorado River Authority President Gene Shawcroft says lower-basin states should make the most cuts because they use the most resources.

For his part, Bruce Babbitt, secretary of the interior between 2003 and 2011, said that “it is going to reach a critical point, particularly if the states of the upper basin continue with their negotiating position and say: ‘We are not going to make any cuts’ ”.

The river, which used to flow forcefully into the Sea of ​​Cortez, now helps fuel America’s $15 million-a-year poultry industry. Officials have predicted that water levels in Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, will drop further. The lake currently has less than a quarter of its capacity.

The lake, which supplies the Hoover Dam, one of the largest engineering feats in the United States, generates 4.5 billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric power, enough to power some 8 million people, including residents of cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas, who today are threatened.

File photo.  A boat sails on Lake Powell near Page, Arizona.  Seven states in the western US face a deadline from the federal government to come up with a plan to use substantially less water from the Colorado River by 2023.

File photo. A boat sails on Lake Powell near Page, Arizona. Seven states in the western US face a deadline from the federal government to come up with a plan to use substantially less water from the Colorado River by 2023. AP – Rick Bowmer

The dam registers its lowest levels this summer since 1937, in addition, animal organizations have expressed concern about the danger of extinction of 10 endemic species and another 47 that are at risk.

Lake Powell, another large Colorado River reservoir, supplies Glen Canyon Dam, which generates enough electricity to power about 1.5 million homes a year in the area.

This year, the water levels reached levels low enough to take extreme measures. Federal authorities withheld more than 592 million cubic meters of water to ensure the dam can produce enough power, leading to mandatory water cuts.

“The states collectively have not identified or adopted specific actions of sufficient magnitude that will stabilize the system,” said the commissioner of the Office of Recovery.

Drastic measures affecting the inhabitants of the area

States like Nevada have already implemented certain conservation policies, such as lawn hazard bans and resource-saving reimbursement programs. The Reclamation Office has focused its savings plan until next year, although it is likely that they will have to be extended for longer.

“The contribution that the science makes is that it’s pretty clear that these reductions need to be sustained until the drought ends or we realize that they actually have to get worse and the cuts need to be deeper,” said Kevin Wheeler, a hydrologist at the University. from Oxford.

The cut plan was agreed between the seven states and Mexico in 2019, in order to maintain reservoir levels. There, an amount of allowable water was assigned to each state, depending on the levels in Lake Mead.

For the second year in a row, the states of Arizona and Nevada face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River, this year Mexico has joined the mandatory measures, due to drought worsened by climate change and excessive use of the river.

The Mexican state of Baja California is facing the strongest drought recorded in the last 22 years, according to the National Water Commission, which has declared the start of a drought emergency in the northern states of the Aztec country.

Farmer John Hawk surveys his land as his onion seed fields are irrigated in Holtville, California.  For the seven states that depend on the Colorado River carrying melted snow from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, that means a future with less and less water for farms and cities.

Farmer John Hawk surveys his land as his onion seed fields are irrigated in Holtville, California. For the seven states that depend on the Colorado River carrying melted snow from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, that means a future with less and less water for farms and cities. AP – Reed Saxon

New York also sounds the alarms

Although the state of New York is not supplied with water from the Colorado River and there are more than 4,000 kilometers between the two places, the state located in the north of the country is also affected by climate change and this summer’s drought.

Federal authorities recommended this Tuesday to its residents to save water due to an unusual drought in most of its territory, including the Big Apple. Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a “drought watch” level, the first of four severity levels.

The neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut have also been affected by the drought, the result of one of the driest summers in the region. Local authorities have asked to contain the use of water and take precautions with fire to avoid fires.

There are still options to recover the river delta

Because this situation worsens every year and the forecasts are getting worse, different local community organizations seek to draw the attention of the two governments, the United States and the Mexican, in order to obtain resources to mitigate the damage caused by the drought of the river.

“Now there is no Colorado River. You pass by, you see it and it is dry, there is no longer blue life but there is green life which is what we are trying to do,” said Keila Gardenia, a Mexican volunteer who supports a project to plant trees along the river delta, which is now desert.

With different projects, the private alliance seeks to recover part of the flow of the Colorado River, although in some places the damage is irremediable.

During the next few days, new announcements are expected from the governments of the United States and Mexico to further reduce the water consumption of their population.

With AP, Reuters and local media

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