The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people, farms and ecosystems in the West, yet overallocation, ongoing drought and climate change threaten to snip away at the amount of water available. As data shows, the cornerstone of water storage on the river, Lake Mead, dropped one foot in 2018. The states of the Colorado River Compact are embroiled in negotiations over a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), which is necessary but only address relatively short-term concerns.
The looming challenge is that there is too little water and too many straws slurping water from the Colorado River. For over a century, hydrologists and planners knew that the river’s flow of water was overestimated and overallocated, and people — from public officials to farmers to domestic users — must recognize that 20th century promises were a watery pipe dream.
As John Fleck, wisely observes:
On all these points and many more unsettled issues, everyone has clever lawyers with an interpretation that favors their interests. But clever lawyering won’t conjure water, which is the key to what Megdal is saying. We’ve got to plan for less water. DCP recognizes that, but the difficulties in coming to final agreement on the DCP suggests not all the basin’s water users grasp the new reality.”
Fleck provides more details about the tradeoffs and ultimatums that confront the governments and broader society of the American West as huge decisions on water are made.