With the Colorado River and its largest reservoirs at alarmingly low levels, a coalition of eleven organizations from across the Colorado River Basin gathered at the Hoover Dam today to ask federal lawmakers and the US Bureau of Reclamation to place a moratorium on new dams or diversions on the river.
Kyle Roerink is executive director of the Great Basin Water Network and was emcee at today’s event. The diversity of the coalition underscored the importance and urgency of their message.
“This is a strange bedfellows coalition,” Roerink said to those gathered near the dam that creates Lake Mead. “We got farmers, we got enviros, we got businesses. We’re the type of coalition they say can’t be put together. But we’re hear to say ‘damn the status quo. No more business as usual.'”
Roerink was direct in saying the current system of river management is failing. He pointed to the 2007 Interim Guidelines for river management.
“I think it’s fair to say that it’s failed,” Roerink said. “So what are we going to do about it? We can sit here all day and point fingers, but at the same time, we’re not here to just point fingers, we’re here to say, ‘we have solutions for moving forward.’
“Number one, we need a moratorium on new dams and proposed pipelines, wasteful projects. We’re not talking about clean water for Indigenous communities that have long been excluded. We’re not asking for a moratorium on projects like that. We’re asking for a moratorium on projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline and a variety of other dams.”
In March of this year, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced the Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act. Much like the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, the legislation will allocate funds from the sale of federal lands for development to protect over 2 million acres of public land elsewhere in the state while allowing Clark County to “develop affordable housing and responsibly plan for population growth projections.”
Environmental groups have expressed skepticism in the bill as environmentally unsustainable. Roerink spoke to the legislation.
“Number two, we’re not here to say no to new development,” Roerink said. “We’re here to say, ‘if you’re going to develop, we need sustainable, identified supplies of water to do so.
“Third, we need new management and operations regimes on the River. And we have to be extremely careful right now because Congress is negotiating and infrastructure bill. We have COVID money funneling into states and local communities and we also have what’s known as the “Reconsultation Process” (an effort to develop new operating guidelines) that has to end by 2026, and there are a lot of opportunities there for either skullduggery or to reverse the wrongs of the past,” Roerink explained.
The Lake Powell Pipeline
The Utah Rivers Council and other signatories have sent a letter to the Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General requesting a federal investigation of the Central Utah Water District. This action comes on the heels of a request for a state investigation of Utah’s largest water supplier.
What’s at issue for the coalition that appeared today and the Utah Rivers Council in particular is whether the Central Utah Water District used federal funds to advance the Lake Powell Pipeline, the largest new water diversion proposed in the Colorado River Basin. According to the letter, this water supplier has received $832 million from Congress for the Central Utah Project (CUP) – a water diversion system that allows the Wasatch Front to use Colorado River water – and to advance water conservation efforts in Utah.
According to a press release from the Utah Rivers Council, the request to the inspector general follows a 19-page petition for a state investigation to the Utah Attorney General, which found that the second highest staff member at the Central Utah Water District received over $1 million from the district for her family lobbying firm. The letter asserts that the lobbying firm worked to advance the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline at the Utah statehouse.
Funding the family lobbying firm raises the question for river advocates of whether the Central Utah Water District violated the Utah Public Officers & Employees Ethics Act, among other statutes.
“It’s shocking the Central Utah Water District would look the other way while this $1 million conflict of interest with its senior staff was in front of them for so many years” said Claire Geddes, veteran Utah activist. “Since we can’t trust this water agency, we need a federal investigation to examine these conflicts of interest and whether CUP funding was used to advance the boondoggle Lake Powell Pipeline” said Geddes.
The Utah Rivers Council is on record saying that the Lake Powell Pipeline is a symbol of corruption and dishonesty, a laughable plan among stakeholders up and down the basin.
“I am here today to call for a federal investigation of Utah’s largest water supplier,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. “The proposed Lake Powell Pipeline is the largest new water diversion being proposed in the entire Colorado River Basin.
“This 140-mile long, $3 billion water project represents the boondoggle of our past. It is a completely unnecessary water project. The Lake Powell Pipeline project would deliver water to some of America’s most wasteful water users in Washington County Utah. This region is slated to receive Lake Powell Pipeline water, an area that uses more than 306 gallons per person, per day, more than twice the US average and almost three times the water use of Las Vegas and Phoenix residents.
“At some point we have to stop the schizophrenic, mad policy that the federal government has been on to advance the Lake Powell Pipeline,” Frankel said.
Looking forward, climate change-induced water shortages are expected to result in a significant curtailment of water deliveries from the Colorado River.
The US Bureau of Reclamation is expected to cut 613,000 acre feet of water from their Colorado River water supplies next year due to low water levels in Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. California will likely soon follow if actions aren’t taken to reduce water use.
“The reservoir system in the Colorado River basin is collapsing due to overuse, drought, and climate change,” said Gary Wockner of Save The Colorado. “The Lake Powell Pipeline would make it all worse, and any improper collusion involved with the Pipeline needs to be investigated.”
Top photo caption and credit: The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is advising visitors to be aware of changes to water access points and boat launch areas on Lake Mead this year due to declining water levels through the summer. Image take on April 12 of 2021 – photo: National Park Service.
People who attended today’s gathering at the Hoover Dam:
Howard Dennis, flute chief of Mishognonvi Village of the Hopi Tribe
Tick Segerblom, Clark County Commissioner
JB Hamby, Director, Imperial Irrigation District
Kiernan McManus, Mayor, Boulder City
Jackie Wallin, Laughlin Chamber of Commerce
Brea Chiodini, Sharon Sauer, Laughlin River Tours & Laughlin-Bullhead City River Flow Committee
Zach Frankel, Utah Rivers Council
John Weisheit, Living Rivers and Colorado River Waterkeeper
Kyle Roerink, Great Basin Water Network
Jose Silva and Laura Martin, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada
Patrick Donnelly, Center for Biological Diversity
Lisa Ortega, Sierra Club Southern Nevada Group