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Feinstein’s California Drought Bill Eyes Colorado River and Lake Mead

For Immediate Release
April 14, 2014
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado River Campaign

Feinstein “California Emergency Drought Relief Act” Eyes Colorado River
Bill proposes to increase storage in Lake Mead

Denver, CO:  With the drought intensifying in California, and with a prolonged 15-year drought in the Colorado River basin, a new version of a U.S. Senate bill proposes to rearrange water storage in the Colorado River.  The bill, titled the “California Emergency Drought Relief Act,” originally was solely focused on drought problems in California, but at the beginning of April, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) reintroduced the bill with a new “Section 111: Colorado River Basin System Water” that would “…increase Colorado River system water in Lake Mead and the initial units of the Colorado River Storage Project reservoirs…”. (See news story here.)

The new version of the bill aims to get the support of Senate President Harry Reid (D-NV) and a few Senate Republicans to ensure a filibuster-proof passage.  In an April 10th news story Feinstein is quoted as saying, “We are very close to 60 [votes], but we’re not there yet.”  Las Vegas is almost solely reliant on the Colorado River for water.  Over the past decade the level of Lake Mead has continued to drop and has threatened Las Vegas’ water supplies as well as those in other parts of the Lower Colorado River Basin.

“As this bill moves forward, it is extremely important to consider the impacts on the health of the rivers in California and the Colorado River basin,” said Gary Wockner who coordinates the Save The Colorado River Campaign.  “Moving water downstream along the Colorado River and storing it in Lake Mead could have environmental and economic benefits for all the people of the Southwest U.S. while helping to ensure water supplies for Las Vegas, Arizona, and drought-stricken Southern California.”

Wockner continued, “We will continue to monitor the progress of this bill and we encourage other stakeholders to engage in a robust public debate about how to protect our economy and environment from drought.  As the effects of climate change continue to be felt across California and the Southwest U.S., all users of Colorado River water will need to adapt to what Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell as called a ‘new normal’ of water management in the basin.”

The bill proposes to increase storage in Lake Mead and other CRSP reservoirs through “pilot projects” funded by grants from the Secretary of Interior to “public entities….for municipal purposes,” and for “renewing and implementing water conservation agreements.”  The exact details how these grants would help deliver and store water in Lake Mead and other reservoirs are not specified in the bill.

The initial version of the bill received lukewarm support from California environmental groups, 11 of which signed a letter saying they supported the bill but proposed amendments.  The new version of the bill has not yet been similarly vetted and will likely intensify the discussion about how to manage less water and more demand in the Colorado River basin.  The Save The Colorado River Campaign and other environmental groups have consistently argued that water conservation is the easiest, cheapest, and fastest way to get more water to cities while protecting rivers.

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