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Our View: Drought plan deserves support but solution requires more water

April 7, 2019

As the Colorado River drought plan moves through Congress, it’s enjoying broad support and a good chance of approval this month.

It deserves that support. It deserves to be passed not because it’s a good plan because it isn’t. It deserves passage because it’s a plan. The only one there is. It’s more like a singular lifeline when all other bets are off. Who would say no?

One thing the so-called drought contingency plan (suggesting the West could experience drought soon, though we’ve been hearing about drought conditions for a decade or more) is not is a solution. The solution, of course, requires figuring out how to provide sufficient water for the larger populations and business needs and agricultural needs of the West. This solution has been elusive since the first river compact was signed close to a century ago.

That first agreement was built upon bad assumptions that the Colorado River carried a lot more water than it actually did.

Every agreement since has had to deal with that faulty foundation and water litigation among the states and users consequently ensued for decades.

Colorado River water users number about 40 million these days. The river is less full than a century ago and forecasts call for it to shrink in the coming years. The math is easy but the fix is elusive.

Specifically, the drought plan calls for reductions in water use as the level of Lake Mead hits certain key points. Some project the first threshold could happen next year. Others are heartened by this year’s heavy snowpack and above-average projections for river flow into lakes Mead and Powell.

Colorado River use agreements may be built upon bad data but they are also overflowing with hope of the kind that arises in this wet water year. Maybe if we pass this agreement the snow will be good next year, too?

At the least, the drought plan is seen is a bridge to a real solution. People have been saying that, though, with every new river agreement for almost 100 years.

The difference with this agreement is that is built cooperatively by the included states, not built on contention between them. Without minimizing the threats of the federal government to devise its own, probably draconian, plan, it’s fair to say this cooperation may really be a bridge and not just a can to be kicked.

The solution to not enough water is to get more or to keep reducing use of a shrinking amount. The latter is the current plan. It’s not a solution. The solution requires more water.

Right now, The West can either rest on the laurels of the drought plan while hoping for another good water year or it can build on newfound cooperation to find and create new water sources that will serve a flourishing West for another century.

— Today’s News-Herald

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