Salton Sea cleanup in jeopardy as states battle over Colorado River water, but water quality is improving.
The state of Colorado is considering an unusual course of action to protect Lake Powell, a vital water source for farms and cities in the heart of Colorado.
The state has already agreed to release millions of gallons of Colorado River water from Lake Powell into Lake Mead, leaving a surplus that could be pumped to California’s Central Valley, home to the world’s biggest agriculture-export market.
But Colorado politicians appear set to press ahead now, even though their decision could lead to a huge drop in water flows into Lake Mead.
“It would be more than a disaster,” says Colorado Water and Environmental Responsibility Commissioner Jim Davenport, who has spent years campaigning for more water flow into the lower Colorado River.
The battle over water at Lake Mead is the latest chapter in a decades-old war between water managers and farmers over the water supply in California, a fight that has left the state with more than 40% of its water flowing north into Colorado.
The water fights now threaten a clean-water project to improve water quality at Lake Powell, an out-of-this-world geyser that has forced lawmakers and farmers to make alliances that have raised the ire of environmental groups.
The state-level fight over water at Lake Powell has been simmering since the US Geological Survey discovered in 1976 that the lake’s water was seriously degraded.
The study reported poor water quality, from the presence of bacteria to the presence of chemicals that harm fish, frogs, and other aquatic life.
But Congress, following the lead of Colorado and Arizona, agreed in 1990 to transfer nearly all the surplus water at Lake Powell and release it to the Colorado River.
Since then, state agencies and farmers have worked out long-standing understandings that protect the water supply in the long run.
Lake Powell water releases
Now, the Colorado River Water Conservation District wants to use part of those water transfers to build an aqueduct to divert and improve the quality of water flowing from Lake Powell into the lower Colorado River.
In the meantime, the state will release water from Lake Powell into Lake Mead, which is closer to the population centers of California, leaving behind a surplus that could be used for drinking water.
“It’s like being in the war,” says state Water Director Dan McSwain. “We’ve been a