Wyoming wants to modify the Fontenelle Dam so it can use an extra 80,000 acre-feet of water from a tributary of the once-mighty Colorado River. At its headwaters, Denver Water hopes to expand a reservoir’s capacity by 77,000 acre-feet of water. And several hundred miles south, Utah is trying to build a pipeline that can funnel another 86,000 acre-feet out of the river.
There are at least six high-profile projects in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming that combined could divert more than 300,000 acre-feet of water from the beleaguered Colorado River. That’s the equivalent of Nevada’s entire allocation from the river. (One acre-foot is roughly equal to 326,000 gallons.) These projects are in different stages of permitting and funding, but are moving ahead even as headlines about the river’s dwindling supply dominate the news.
The Colorado River sustains the American West. About 40 million people rely on the Colorado River and its water irrigates 5.5 million acres of farmland — an area roughly the size of the state of New Hampshire. But the river has long been in a state of decline and it no longer reaches its delta in Baja, Mexico, without human intervention. A confluence of factors — including booming populations in Western cities, a historical undercount of the amount of water in the river, and prolonged drought fueled by climate change — have contributed to its current state.
For the last few years, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming have been working on an agreement to prevent levels at key reservoirs from dropping below a critical threshold. After a few roadblocks that seemed set to derail the plan, the seven states — which had historically been litigious over water — came to an agreement in March. It was heralded as a historic deal. Earlier this week, President Trump signed legislation approving the plan.
But now, at least three of those states are forging ahead with building up infrastructure to sip even more of the Colorado’s water.
Gary Wockner, director of the environmental group Save the Colorado, pointed out the lopsided water conservation efforts. “They’re trying to drain more water with massive dams, diversions, and pipelines,” he said. “It’s a kind of political chaos that defies common sense.”
Lawyers and environmentalists say the seemingly mismatched priorities stem from […]