The Colorado River Compact and the Exigencies of Drought

The Colorado River runs 1,450 miles from its headwaters in Colorado to the Gulf of California. Its watershed spans seven U.S. states and Mexican states, imparting crucial water to predominant metropolitan areas within the American Southwest.

In 1922, representatives from seven U.S. Western states met to layout the first water allocation of an intrastate river. The Colorado River, with headwaters within the kingdom of Colorado, flows 1,450 miles into Mexico and the Gulf of California, serving because the lifeline to southwestern populations. As such, each country alongside the river had incentive to attain a water allocation agreement. but, negotiations almost failed and Arizona did not ratify the compact till 1944. The Colorado River Compact divides the overall water of the river (determined from flow facts to be 15 million acre ft (MAF) (18.five billion cubic meters)), between an higher and decrease Basin. The upper Basin, together with Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, ought to supply 7.5 MAF (9.25 billion cubic meters) each 12 months to the lower Basin, comprised of Arizona, Nevada, and California, underneath the compact. This quantity-based allocation did now not account for the excessive interannual variability of the river or the varied desires of the river’s stakeholders, whether or not city, rural, tribal, agricultural, recreational, or environmental. though handiest 4 pages in length, the compact formed the foundation for an extremely complicated collection of court selections, statutes, guidelines, and other files called the “regulation of the River.”

The Southern Nevada Water Authority made saving water a concern and a cultural price for the Las Vegas metropolitan place with commercials which include “The Neighbor.” (Southern Nevada Water Authority, “The Neighbor,” tv ads,

The “law’s” premises came under harsh scrutiny within the early 2000s as intense drought plagued the yank Southwest. input: Patricia Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas. Mulroy spent most of the 1990s bringing together the metropolis’s vying water districts to higher address the troubles of water deliver and scarcity. In 2001, she secured the town’s water banking agreement with Arizona, the first of its type, in which the city of Las Vegas paid Arizona’s Water Banking Authority to buy water from Arizona’s farmers and maintain it in underground reserves for the city. while that water changed into wanted in future years Las Vegas might take an equal component out of the Lake Mead reservoir and Arizona could tap its saved underground supply. by way of circumventing extended and pricey interstate litigation, Mulroy spearheaded an innovative technique that might soon refigure water relationships during the complete Colorado River Basin. In 2007, after three years of negotiations, the lower Basin States reached an settlement wherein three trigger points have been set—1075, 1050, and 1025 ft above sea stage in Lake Mead—that if reached would force graduated curtailments in water use. The settlement additionally allowed for water efficiency tasks and garage in Lake Mead which will thwart implementation of the water use regulations. Such cooperation aimed toward spreading water shortage among many to reduce the consequences for all.

Patricia Mulroy explains the centrality of the Colorado River to Las Vegas and applauds the metropolis’s citizens for his or her efforts to preserve water. (Southern Nevada Water Authority, “thank you for helping”, YouTube snwavideo).

Minute 319 allocated water to restore the desiccated Colorado River Delta in Mexico’s Sonoran wasteland. earlier, the river ended five miles north of its historic terminus inside the Gulf of California, additionally called the sea of Cortez.

Cooperation among metropolitan water districts and states turned into now not the simplest feat executed on the bargaining desk, however. since the Nineteen Nineties, Mulroy had advocated for the inclusion of Mexico as an same accomplice on the water-divvying desk, calling the desiccated Colorado River Delta a shame for the complete river network. On 20 November 2012, Mexico joined the U.S. Colorado River network through an agreement referred to as Minute 319. because the big apple times defined: “[…] the 2 nations will proportion in each surpluses and water scarcity. during drought years in the united states of america, much less water may be despatched to Mexico. In exchange, all through years of lots, Mexico could be allowed to save a number of its water north of the border.” The settlement additionally furnished funding measures for enhancements to Mexico’s earthquake-damaged water infrastructure in addition to water allotments to restore the Colorado River Delta. “The Colorado River, in so many methods, makes us one humans,” posited U.S. Secretary of the indoors Ken Salazar at the signing of this agreement, “and together we are facing the chance of reduced resources in years in advance.”

Patricia Mulroy spoke passionately about operating collectively to face an uncertain future regarding water flows within the Colorado River on the Water scarcity inside the West: beyond, gift, future conference at the college of California, Davis in April 2015. (CCWAS IGERT Annual Workshop, Water scarcity within the West: beyond, gift, destiny, college of California, Davis, April 6-7, 2015).

Secretary Salazar’s sentiment turned into echoed in a speech given through Patricia Mulroy at the college of California, Davis in April 2015. She implored citizens and leaders of the Colorado River Basin to view themselves as “residents of a watershed,” explaining that “the solutions for the following day aren’t new everlasting agreements. they are setting up processes wherein as situations change, we who’ve spent a life-time warring with one another, can discover commonplace solutions to the troubles on the floor as they occur.” individuals of any watershed could do well to heed such phrases of wisdom.

how to cite

Roberts, Stacy N., and Foster, Lauren. “’citizens of a Watershed’: The Colorado River Compact and the Exigencies of Drought.” environment & Society Portal, Arcadia (Spring 2016), no. 1. Rachel Carson middle for surroundings and Society.


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