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Colorado locks down water supply, promising "not a drop more" to California

California drought

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(NaturalNews) Recent storms dropped torrential rains across much of California, causing flooding and mudslides across many areas, leaving some residents homeless and killing at least two people. There was even a tornado in Los Angeles. Despite record rainfall on December 10 of between 1.54 inches at Long Beach Airport and 2.36 inches in Oxnard, the amount of rain that fell was a mere drop in the bucket for this drought-stricken state. A milder storm December 12 added to the rainfall total.

These early-winter storms left behind a combined 166 billion gallons of water, which seems like an enormous amount of water, but in reality is only enough water for 2.5 million people for one year. Given that California has been in a drought since 2011, and has a population of over 38 million, it is clear that California is far from done with its water woes. According to an article by the San Jose Mercury News, the California Department of Water Resources estimates that California will need six more major winter storms dropping similar amounts of rain to bring an end to the drought.

1922 Colorado River Compact still the base document for West's water management

James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, isn't waiting to find out if those storms occur over the next few months and is working on policies to address the situation now and in the coming decades. About 4.6 trillion gallons of water run down off the Rocky Mountains as the snow melts in spring. Much of the water flows downstream to Arizona, Nevada, Mexico and California.

Two-thirds of the snowmelt-generated water belongs to these downstream regions, also known as the Lower Basin states, while one-third of the water belongs to the Upper Basin states, which include Utah and Wyoming, as well as Colorado, per the 1922 Colorado River Compact. James Eklund does not want to deprive the Lower Basin states of their apportionment; he just wants to ensure that any excess generated in Colorado stays in Colorado.

Looking to water consumption in the future

A number of factors affect decisions such as this. Colorado's population is expected to grow from the current 5.5 million to somewhere near 9 million by 2050. All other factors being the same, Colorado will experience a 60 percent increase in water usage over the next 35 years. Drought can hit anywhere, as happened in Colorado in 2002-2003, which led to development of a new water management plan. The plan doesn't currently address a long-contentious issue in the state that allows 163 billion gallons of water to be transported from west of the Continental Divide to the more heavily populated Front Range that includes cities like Denver and Colorado Springs in the east. The new plan does call for considering conservation and recycling alternatives before building any other pipelines. These are topics all states should be considering.

In California, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of all water used in a given year while accounting for less than 2.5 percent of California's income. Water-intensive crops, such as alfalfa and rice, take up a significant amount of the agricultural use, with alfalfa farmers using fully 20 percent of the water to grow a crop used primarily to feed dairy cows in the state. Alfalfa crops account for only 4 percent of state farming revenue.

California plan only addresses 20 percent of water consumption

Based on these facts, you might think Governor Brown's 2014 California Water Action plan would place a premium on developing water conservation legislation and practices that would concentrate on agricultural water consumption and best practices. Sadly, it does not. Instead, it concentrates primarily on urban water consumption and extends Senate Bill X7-7, a law passed in 2009 which contains the goal of reducing per capita urban water use by 20 percent by December 31, 2020, and suggests holding water consumption at 2000 levels until 2030. Almost as an afterthought, the plan states that "the administration will also work with local and regional entities to develop performance measures to evaluate agricultural water management." No performance measures for agricultural water consumption are given.

The California Water Action Plan leaves little doubt as to why James Eklund and the Colorado Water Conservation Board have adopted such an aggressive posture in the West's war for water. Poor planning on California's part isn't going to constitute an emergency for Coloradans.










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