Ongoing drought in the west, has prompted the Bureau of Reclamation to reconsider how it divides Colorado River water between reservoirs. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.
PLASKON: Under the current drought, the lower Colorado River reservoirs are suffering. Officials spend millions to do what's called Chasing the Water, moving services as lake levels drop. Chasing the water has cost Lake Mead National Recreation Area more than 20 million dollars in just 3 years.
PLASKON: Part of the problem is that the Bureau of Reclamation doesn't have a plan for how to manage water when there is a shortage. This meeting is the start of a two year process to develop a calculated plan for releasing and holding back water without severely impacting resources.
MEETING: We could implement some sort of guidelines and they could be sunset or they could be permanent.
PLASKON: The Bureau of Reclamation has a pretty good idea of the impacts because the region has been in a drought, but the Bureau is seeking public comment that will help them prioritize the impacts.
MEETING: With that said we would like to turn it over to you all.
WARSHECSKI: If drought conditions were to persist boating access to the lakes may have to be discontinued altogether.
PLASKON: Gary WARSHEFSKI Deputy Superintendant of Lake Mead National Recreation Area said boating will always take place on the Colorado River even if Lake Mead were reduced to only a river. While boating activities could be drastically reduced, the Bureau of Reclamation could manage water so that it wouldn't impact too many people according to Larry Doser, Deputy General Manager of the Central Arizona Project.
DOSER: So they don't cause dramatic impacts to recreation in mid-season and then move to an off season, then try to manage for this period.
PLASKON: Another drastic measure was proposed by Living Rivers, a non-profit organization planning to release a report to congress on the Colorado River this year. David Haskal is Policy Director.
HASKAL: If nothing is done to deal with the accumulated sedimentation the Glen Canyon dam will fail. There is no engineering solution to that. I see people chuckling.
PLASKON: He says sediments collecting behind the reservoir will render the Glen Canyon Dam useless. He estimates that Lake Powell, which is 70 percent below capacity, will never recover from the current drought because of increased demand for water in the southwest. He suggests permanently reducing Lake Powell to a river
DOSER: I would call it ignorant and mis-guided thinking."
PLASKON: But Larry Doser of the Central Arizona Project says the southwest needs the capacity of Lake Powel to retain future surpluses.
DOSER: If we had only had one reservoir that one would have already have been empty so you need full reservoirs that capture reserves that would otherwise be lost.
PLASKON: Both Doser and Haskal agree that the Bureau should better manage the water at both reservoirs to reduce evaporation. Currently more than a million acre feet of water evaporate from the surface of both reservoirs every year. Bureau of Reclamation officials said they considered both the reservoirs essential. Haskal wants them to reconsider.
HASKAL: People who have put all of their stock in a reservoir or a concept like that it is very difficult to get them to admit that they are wrong. Glen Canyon may not have been a mistake when they were built but the situation is different than it is now so we have to look at the situation in the future.
PLASKON: According to his report, citing Bureau of Reclamation statistics and climate related declines in Colorado River flow, demand for water will outstrip supply in 10 years. The Bureau of Reclamation expects to develop its plan by 2007.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR
TAG: The Bureau of Reclamation is accepting comments until the end of next month.