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🗣️ "Is Demand Management the Answer on the Colorado River?"

The Water Values Podcast

Photo by Justin Wang / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Dave McGimpsey
Guest: James Eklund | Founder & CEO | Eklund Hanlon
Category: 🗣️ Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[13:24] “We split the [Colorado] basin in two […] and the upper basin is entitled to 7.5 million acre feet. And the lower basin is entitled to use 7.5 million acre feet […] . And then later Mexico negotiated for 1.5 million acre feet. If you add all that up […] you get 16.5 million acre feet. So if you have that amount to play with in a year, everyone's happy. And back when they negotiated the compact, there was about 18 million acre feet showing up on average. So the apportionment numbers were reasonable. Flash forward to today, and we're closer to 10 to 12 million acre feet in an average year and the math just doesn't work. So demand management is our response to that dynamic, where we're using more out of the system than is coming in on a reliable basis. And we have to do something in order to to change that supply and demand imbalance. Demand management is basically managing your demands, so you use less water and more of that water that you otherwise would have consumed makes its way into a storage vessel. That means the entire system is more healthy.”

[15:43] “They looked at the map and said, if we create the two largest reservoirs in the nation, we should be able to ride out the peaks and valleys of the hydrograph. […] And that ended up being Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam. And so you got Lake Mead and Lake Powell as the two largest reservoirs in the country. And those function in a way that allows the lower basin states of California, Arizona, and Nevada to receive 7.5 million acre feet at minimum every single year. And they have developed systems of agriculture, of municipal use and industrial use, that are predicated on seeing that amount of water every year at minimum.”

[17:52] “In the upper basin, we've lived with dry years. […] There's always somebody that is under what we call water administration. […] In the lower basin, they're not quite used to that. When there's a shortage in the lower basin, they really get nervous, because they have those two big reservoirs up above them that have acted as a buffer, so they never really feel the downturn in hydrology in real time. It's always offset by, in this case, two decades. So, in 2003, we had a really bad drought, but we went into that drought with really full reservoirs. And we are […] continuing […] this 20 year drought and we don't have full reservoirs. So they're starting to look at those peaks and valleys of water supply as a real threat. And that's why in 2019, we got together and negotiated a new path forward that would acknowledge that the system is not […] our grandfather's Colorado River. And so we need to do something different in turn in terms of management regime.”

[19:50] “Less water […] is the mother of invention and innovation and creativity. […] In the lower basin, they've been managing demands and banking conserved water in Lake Mead for over a decade now. So they've been doing demand side management. […] In 2019, we said, if banking water works for you, let's make it work up here, too. And we formed the demand management account in Lake Powell. So we'd have an incentive to bank it. […] But we still haven't banked a single drop of water in that account in Lake Powell, […] because everyone wants a demand management management program to be designed a certain way. But because we are a geographically and hydrologically diverse state, we're having a hard time agreeing on the details.”

[24:30] “What has to happen is that each of the states gets to call the shots on how they administer their water. And the compact made that very clear. […] Step one is the states have to develop programs, […] where they recognize that the water conserved is going to live in this account, in Lake Powell. And the way you do that is you basically have to pay senior water users to let that water go down the river and not use it on their fields […]. So that dynamic means that they need to be compensated for that. […] It needs to be temporary, because […] we can't have buy and dry at the scale that we have seen over the last 50 years. […] [Buy and dry] is essentially, when a municipal user buys water rights from a senior ag user and then transfers that water and dries the land. […] We've been doing it, we've got to change that with alternative transfer mechanisms. Meaning, we've got to make it easier for a farmer or rancher to stay in agriculture in the long term by being able to sell or lease their water in the near term. And if we do that, and we're effective at doing that, then more families stay in agriculture and stay in production.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 42 min | 🗓️ 10/19/2021
✅ Time saved: 40 min

Additional Links:
Article: Saving the Colorado River: How Demand Management Can Save the Colorado River (James Eklund)