Salton Sea cleanup in jeopardy as states battle over Colorado River water rights.
After years of negotiations, the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah are locked in a high-stakes legal battle over water supplies from the Colorado River.
The Colorado River Compact, a legally binding document that governs the river, specifies that all of the water it carries to thirsty California’s San Joaquin Valley for farming and industry ultimately goes to the thirsty Pacific Ocean. While the pact is a centralstone of the region’s water politics, it has become a high-stakes battleground for control of the river and other water resources.
The compact dictates that the “first use” of water by each user is always for that user’s own “first use” purposes, which can be anything from irrigation on irrigated land to a fire hydrant on non-irrigated land. The compact says that if a user wants to divert water from a river system for one of its own uses, it has to do so only for that use. Any water diverted for other uses “shall not be returned to the source or be used in irrigation or other industrial, municipal or domestic” purposes.
The compact says the states have “limited rights” under the compact and that each state is required to “use its own best efforts” to “furnish to [California] its full and complete supply” of the Colorado River.
The compact doesn’t specify how much water the states have. But it does specify that each state is allotted 8.33 billion acre feet, or 3.89 billion acre-feet, of Colorado River water a year.
For years, the governor of southern Arizona, Jan Brewer, has threatened to block the flow of river water through a pipeline from the Colorado River basin to the central valley. And just weeks ago, a federal district court judge halted construction of a water pipeline in California that would import water from the Colorado River basin to the south.
In the end, the dispute over the Colorado River is not