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Will users of the Colorado River reach a deal before it's too late?

FILE - A fisherman throws a cast net along shore of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Jan. 27, 2023, near Boulder City, Nev.
John Locher
/
AP
FILE - A fisherman throws a cast net along shore of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Jan. 27, 2023, near Boulder City, Nev.

In the cooler winter months, we tend to forget about the biggest issue facing Nevada. But it’ll come back, because summer’s coming fast.

And that’s when our minds turn to water.

The most basic question for everyone: With new businesses and homes, thousands move to the state each month. So do we, will we have enough?

And maybe most importantly, will the seven states who share the river water come to a new agreement on how they want to divide that all-valuable water?

Alex Hager, Colorado River reporter for KUNC in Northern Colorado, and Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, joined State of Nevada host Joe Schoenmann to talk about the river's ongoing issues.

Hager said the difference between the states of the Upper Basin —that's Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico—and the Lower Basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California amount to fundamentally opposed views on what's needed.

The current agreement, hammered out in 1922, allows for more than 7 million acre-feet of water to be released to the Lower Basin states every year—that's even in the event of lower snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, which melts to provide much of the water to the river. But the Upper Basin has no such guarantee. So they want to lower that guaranteed amount.

Lower Basin states want to change the way water shortages are calculated. Today, they are based on lake levels in Lake Mead and, further north, Lake Powell. But several reservoirs hold Colorado River water, and the Lower Basin states want all of that water to be measured before emergency water declarations are enforced.

Roerink said the Upper Basin states are simply unwilling to make any cuts at this time. And while the seven states work on some kind of agreement, he added, various development projects up and down the river are moving ahead.

The federal government set a deadline for 2026 for an agreement, though Hager has said the Biden Administration wants one before the end of this year.


Guests: Alex Hager, Colorado River reporter, KUNC; Kyle Roerink, executive director, Great Basin Water Network

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.
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