Monday, November 19, 2012

All About Agua

Water. We just can't live without it. Yet here in the desert, it's quite the scarce resource. That's why many here in Nevada will be celebrating tomorrow.

Why? Pay attention to this.

Government officials from United States and Mexico have made a Tuesday date in San Diego to sign a landmark agreement to share Colorado River water during times of drought and surplus. [...]

The five-year agreement developed from talks begun before the seven Colorado River states signed a landmark agreement in 2007 to share the pain of shortages during drought and surpluses during wet years. The river runs some 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the Gulf of California.

The agreement calls for letting Mexico store water in Lake Mead, and for a pilot program of water releases from the U.S. to replenish wetlands in the Colorado River delta south of the border.

The water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada would each buy water from Mexico over three years. The agreement also clears the way for U.S. entities to invest in infrastructure improvements in Mexico in return for a share of the water such projects would save.

So why is this so important? Keep in mind that 90% of the water supply for the Las Vegas Valley comes from the Colorado River/Lake Mead. Without the Colorado, we simply can't survive.

Also keep in mind that as climate change becomes more of a crisis, the extended drought it's brought to The Southwest will continue. And as that drought continues, Colorado River flow remains low. So more than ever before, everyone who relies on the river for survival needs this agreement... And needs to learn how to survive by cooperating with each other.

Under this new agreement, there will be more cooperation than we've ever seen before. And it will be international.

The pact calls for the [Metropolitan Water District of] Southern California to pay Mexico $5 million over three years in return for 47,500 acre-feet of water. The agencies in Arizona and Nevada [as in the Southern Nevada Water Authority] would each pay half that for about half the amount of water. An acre-foot of water is enough to serve two households for a year.

"It is a significant development on the Colorado River," said Kip White, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation. "It could be one of the most significant things that’s happened since the 1944 Colorado River Compact."

The current agreement is an addendum to a 1944 U.S.-Mexico water treaty.

It would let Mexico continue an emergency program begun two years ago to store water in Lake Mead, the reservoir behind Hoover Dam near Las Vegas. That’s when an earthquake in Mexico damaged its pipelines. Mexico asked the U.S. at the time to let it store water temporarily while repairs were made to irrigation systems.

The agreement also calls for a pilot program of water releases from the U.S. to replenish wetlands in the Colorado River delta of the Gulf of California.

Provisions include Mexico agreeing to adjust its delivery schedule during low reservoir conditions; Mexico having access to additional water during high reservoir conditions; and a commitment to work together on a pilot program that includes water for the environment.

By allowing Mexico to store water in Lake Mead, the lake's water level rises. And even though that additional 15 feet of water will be "earmarked" for Mexico, it actually provides a critical 15 feet of protection for Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) intake pipes collecting water for use in urban and suburban Clark County. And as mentioned above, the agreement will allow Nevada to collect over 23,000 acre-feet of water for $2.5 million.

So at least for now, Southern Nevada has again escaped doom by securing enough water to sustain us. So is this it? Probably not yet... But not for the reason you think.

Remember that in recent months, SNWA has been pushing hard for a pipeline to Snake Valley in rural Central Nevada to pump water from there to Clark County. Earlier this year, SNWA even raised water rates and cut conservation rebates in order to kickstart funding for the Snake Valley "Water Grab" project. And even though local officials in rural Nevada and throughout Utah begged the Nevada State Engineer not to parch them and destroy their ecosystem, SNWA turned up enough pressure to convince him to green-light the pipeline.

But now that SNWA has a new compact for the Colorado River,why should SNWA continue pursuing that Snake Valley Pipeline? Especially with Clark County population growth projected to remain much slower than what we saw in the previous two decades, there doesn't seem to be any more need for it. And as we discussed above, in this era of climate change everyone has to learn to cooperate and properly share water in order to survive.

This new compact for the Colorado River provides hope that people here are ready to do that. We'll have to see if the folks in charge of SNWA can continue applying this useful lesson in more cases.

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