Federal officials release new water plans for Colorado River

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Federal officials have drafted a Colorado River water plan that involves the option to have lower basin states, including Arizona, work out an agreement on water cuts. Kathryn Sorensen, Director of Research at the Kyl Center for Water Policy, joined Horizon to discuss the plans and what this means for our state.

“The Colorado River is over allocated, and we’ve been experiencing many years of drought. As a result, water levels in lakes Powell and Mead, the reservoirs that feed the system, are at historic lows,” said Sorensen.

The baseline of the plan involves options for emergency measures to prop up water levels in Colorado River reservoirs. There are several proposed options. The first involves water rights and seems to benefit California. This plan allocates water based on seniority.

“That’s first in time, first in right,” said Sorensen. “California has senior water rights, but so do the farmers in the Yuma area and the Colorado River Indian Tribes and other users who are along the main stem of the Colorado River in western Arizona.”

The other proposed plan favors residents in central Arizona. It envisions cuts that would be shared by all users across the watershed, regardless of their established water rights. This plan modifies one reached in 2007.

Currently, there are seven states or 40 million people who are affected including Arizona. The federal government would prefer the states around the river to come to their own agreement. However, they are willing to step in if an agreement is not reached.

“It’s always better when the Colorado River system operates on a consensus level because, of course, the states know their water users, they know what’s best for the people that live within them,” said Sorensen.

Kathryn Sorensen, Director of Research at the Kyl Center for Water Policy

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