Earlier this month the Federal Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner, Brenda Burman, called on western states to work together on long-term solutions to address water shortages on the Colorado River.
A group of western water advocates is focused on finding ways for western communities to work together to protect wildlife and the environment. Drew Beckwith is water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates, a team of scientists, lawyers and economists following drought conditions in the west.
Beckwith said when water managers with the Central Arizona Water Project announced they were going to pull water from Lake Powell to address drought problems in their state, managers from other drought-stricken states responded.
"There were some stern letters that were written from folks in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming," Beckwith said. “That is sort of how the water community polices itself. There is no real legally binding argument that someone did something wrong. It is almost like a peer pressure and shaming."
Efforts taken by the Bureau of Reclamation, the seven Colorado River Basin states, along with water districts and Mexico are working to conserve water. Beckwith agrees these voluntary efforts help address the decline of water reserved in Lake Mead. This approach has delayed the onset of reductions to water users in Arizona, Nevada, Mexico and California. But he says it is becoming necessary for all players to create cooperative agreements that will protect Lake Mead and Lake Powell if drought conditions persist.
"Let's not focus on things that are individualistic that only benefit a few people,” he said. “Lots of different uses are important. We need to get everyone's views to make sure those are all incorporated.”
Reclamation Commissioner Burman would like drought contingency plans from each state to be in place before the end of this year. She is calling on states, tribes, water districts and non-governmental organizations to work together to meet the needs of over 40 million people who depend on reliable water and power from the Colorado River.
On Tuesday Burman announced the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District in Utah will receive $160,000 to develop a drought contingency plan for its service area in Salt Lake and Utah counties. The district's service area includes 15 cities and is home to nearly 25 percent of Utah's population and is expecting rapid population growth due to a healthy economy.
According to the bureau’s Peter Soeth, the district will assemble stakeholders from all sectors to identify projects, actions and partnerships needed to prepare for and reduce water shortages and improve drought resilience for the areas water users.