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Welcome to the mosh pit of Colorado River water agreements

Nevada, Arizona, and California have a byzantine agreement to share water from the Colorado River. Terms are being renegotiated to insure water levels in Lake Mead do not drop below 1026 feet, because that would mandate intervention by the feds. The Imperial Valley of California has ancient water rights that overrule all other water rights, so it gets a piggy 20% of all water from the Colorado. The twin tunnels plan to siphon water from the Sacramento Delta to the San Joaquin Valley and the thirsty gaping maw of southern California would decrease water usage for the Colorado but would also hurt the Delta. Vegas gets 10% of its water from Lake Mead, however recycles all indoor water, which gets pumped back into the lake and does not count against its allotment.

So, it’s complicated. The current agreement being negotiated is de facto already in use even if Arizona is the mosh pit. I trust this clear things up.

Welcome to the mosh pit.

If the other states were ready, Nevada would sign the drought contingency plan today, SNWA general manager John Entsminger said during the panel. But he noted, this is not a ballet.

“This is not a ballet,” he said. “It is by turns a mosh pit and at times an extremely awkward 7th grade dance in the gym. No one will come off of the wall and engage in a meaningful fashion.”

All the water managers agreed that they need to get to a deal, and they said that they all want an agreement soon, but they acknowledged some remaining roadblocks in California and Arizona.

Arizona is a “mosh pit” right now, Buschatzke said.

But not to worry, it’ll get worked out.

But here’s the thing. Even though we don’t have DCP done, all the basin users are acting, operationally, like it’s a done deal. The states of the Lower Basin are leaving significant quantities of water in Lake Mead this year, kinda like if DCP was already in place. And, crucially, Nevada and Southern California seem to be presuming, in leaving that water in the lake, that the new rules for taking it out under drought conditions, embodied in DCP, will be in effect when they’re needed. Absent DCP, this would pose significant risk for them that they might not be able to get their water out of Lake Mead. This is a strong vote of confidence that DCP, while not done, soon will be.

Those salt cedars growing on Boulder Harbor’s mud flats are operating under the presumption that Lake Mead’s levels are stabilizing. Maybe it’s a vote of confidence in the DCP.

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