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Should We 'Freak Out' Over Water Supply, Drought?

lake_mead_npr.jpg

NPR

As the water level drops at Lake Mead more and more pieces of once covered shoreline begins to appear.

The main focus of water managers up and down the Colorado River is keeping Lake Mead high enough that emergency drought measures do not have to kick in.

And at this year’s conference of managers at Caesars Palace, the theme seems to be “don’t freak out.”

But should they be freaking out, and working faster on water solutions?

Luke Runyon, a reporter on Colorado River issues for KUNC, a National Public Radio members station, is covering the conference.  

He pointed out that new, drastic drought measures agreed to in 2007 kick in if the lake hits 1,075 feet and it is now at 1,081 feet.

Runyon said it is not a matter of 'if' the lake will hit the level but 'when.' And the measures the users of the river will take when it hits that level is the biggest debate at the conference.

"There was this recognition that the 2007 agreement didn't go far enough as the drought continued to worsen in the years after that," Runyon said, "So, this new Drought Contingency Plan is supposed to cut water use back earlier that was originally in that 2007 guidelines and to a greater extent than was in that original agreement."

Part of the problem is Arizona, which under the original agreement would take on the biggest burden of the water cutbacks, hasn't signed the document. 

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In addition to that snag, Runyon said that interstate squabbles about which agencies and industries would be hit first if a water shortage is declared is a problem.

And now, 10 different Native American tribes want a seat at the table because of the water rights they have to the river, adding another layer of complexity Runyon said.

He said the Colorado River "has some serious problems," which has to lead to different water uses for farms and cities up and down the river.

"This won't just be a policy decision, this will require a cultural change," Runyon said.

 

Guests

Luke Runyon, reporter, KUNC

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