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The seven Colorado River basin states have blown past yet another federal deadline to agree on massive water use cuts. Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada agreed on a proposal to keep the river’s rapidly shrinking reservoirs stable. California was the lone holdout.
California uses more Colorado River water than any other state, and its rights to that water are the oldest and most legally entrenched.
“They (California) have priority to the water,” said Newsha Ajami, a hydrologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
In theory, California should be last in line to face cuts, she said. But the worst western drought in a millennium is blowing up the rule book.
“We need to make permanent changes rather than trying to come up with Band-Aid solutions that carry us from one crisis to the next,” Ajami said.
With the states unable to reach a consensus, we’ll see if the federal government makes good on its threat to impose cuts and if it actually has legal standing to do so.
“There are a lot of lawyers looking really closely at that question,” said John Fleck, a water policy researcher at the University of New Mexico.
They’re coming up with a lot of different answers, but he warned that “there’s not enough water for all the lawyers to be right.”
Cuts have to come from somewhere, he added — because the basin states are using more Colorado River water than nature can sustain.
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