Hoover Dam, March 2015. Photo: John Fleck
Pat Mulroy, former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, says California must fix Sacramento Delta water problems now, because the western states are in this together, what happens in the Delta affects Colorado River water usage, and vice versa. However, so far, the Colorado River community has been way more proactive, dare I say “awake”, than California has been.
The regional water situation is bad and getting worse. Yes, things are better in the Colorado River basin this year, but are much worse in California. Southern California uses 20% of Colorado water (mostly for agriculture, but also for Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.) At some point circumstances may force that to change. And at some point Californians will need to take conservation seriously. This will probably be very soon.
Last year was bad. The Sierras were hit, the Colorado was hit, and Lake Mead plummeted. Metropolitan had to draw significant amounts out of Lake Mead, despite the fact that the reservoir was already going to plummet. The Colorado River community understood.
This year, it’s going to be worse. Whatever storage was in Southern California has been exhausted or at least severely diminished and Lake Mead’s going down again. Yes, we have snow. Right now it sits at around 90% of normal in the Colorado River basin; but 90% is not 100% and normal is getting redefined every single day. So it is within our reach now to achieve that magic goal of breaking the shortage elevation in Lake Mead.
California to often thinks it exists in a little bubble and its comatose state legislature simply compounds the problems. I lived there for many years, as well as in Utah, and now Nevada. Other western state legislatures are capable of taking much faster action on pressing issues than California, which too often dithers over issues for years.
Many here in California still don’t see the connection. I’ve been up and down the Colorado River last year, speaking several times in Colorado, in New Mexico, in Arizona, and I have one message. In order to fix the larger problem facing the entire region, California has to resolve the Bay Delta issue. The two are interconnected. Everyone up and down the Colorado is watching what California’s doing in the Bay Delta, because what happens in the Delta matters in Denver.
It’s all one big system.
I have to reiterate the connections again for those of you who have not heard me say it, because it doesn’t seem to want to sink in. From Denver, down all the way up to San Francisco, it’s one huge interconnected plumbing system. It’s inseverable. And everyone’s actions matter.
But the Colorado River community is getting very nervous about what’s going on in California, and you are an integral part of the Colorado River community. Yet you don’t see it, unless you go boating at Lake Havasu or unless you come to Southern Nevada, or go to one of the other facilities on the Colorado River where you actually live in the area that is bordered by the Colorado River. You don’t see it.
But if you’re sitting in Southern California, you’re drinking that water. And it is distant and it is far, but it is a watershed that is just as much in stress as the Bay Delta is.
The message from the Colorado River community to the Bay Delta community is you’ve got to find a solution. You have got to find an answer
Among other immediate issues, California needs to strictly regulate groundwater pumping now. Not five years from now. Now.
Nevada has the strictest groundwater law in the United States. Groundwater and surface water are connected. The groundwater basins provide an opportunity. They are great storage reservoirs; we need to use them as such. Not everybody has the geology to be able to do it, and that’s where the strategic partnerships become invaluable. Just like we are paying Arizona to store their unused water in their groundwater basins for our future use.