Colorado River States Promise to Negotiate First

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and the seven Colorado River Basin states signed an historic plan to help meet the challenges of the current eight-year drought in the basin and chart a water management course for the future.

The record of decision (ROD) activates a legal agreement that provides for the basin states to firmly commit to address future controversies on the river through consultation and negotiation before initiating any litigation. The pact was signed at the Colorado River Water Users Association's annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nev.

"This is the most important agreement among the seven basin states since the original Colorado River Compact of 1922," Kempthorne said.

The ROD, negotiated over the past three years, adopts four key elements of river management.

• The new guidelines establish rules for shortages, specifying who will take reductions and when they take them. This is essential for prudent water planning in times of drought.

• The new operational rules for Lake Powell and Lake Mead will allow these two massive reservoirs to rise and fall in tandem, thereby better sharing the risk of drought.

• The new guidelines establish rules for surpluses, so that if the basin is blessed with ample runoff, the Department of the Interior will have rules in place to distribute the extra water.

• The new rules will address the ongoing drought by encouraging new initiatives for water conservation.

Other conservation measures in the guidelines include an agreement allowing water users to obtain future credit for conserving water and leaving it in Lake Mead. The ROD also sets up a framework to allow cities to contract with willing farmers to temporarily fallow fields in dry years while respecting the basin’s agricultural heritage.

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