By Henry Martinez Special to the Review-Journal. March 4, 2023

The Review-Journal’s Feb. 15 editorial promoting federal intervention to solve the Colorado River crisis contains many inaccuracies.

Let’s start with the inference that a six-state proposal is an actual “accord,” lacking only California’s acquiescence. It is not. A “consensus” solution based primarily on reducing the entitlements of water users not involved in the discussions, or in concurrence with the final proposal — and namely the most senior water right priority tribes, lower Colorado River agricultural water users, California contractors and Mexico — is not consensus or an implementable solution to the crisis.

The editorial also suggests that using water in California to grow food or certain crops — the very reason for the creation of the federal Bureau of Reclamation — is not a beneficial use of that water but fails to acknowledge these same crops are grown throughout the rest of the basin, including Nevada.

Perhaps the other basin states should lead the action they suggest and eliminate these crops in their states first.

This anti-agriculture rhetoric is all-too common these days but made worse when incorrect. It is factually erroneous to state that 80 percent of Colorado River water is used for farming or that Imperial Irrigation District in California annually delivers 3.1 million acre-feet to its water users (ignoring two decades of ag-to-urban water conservation transfers that now reduce IID’s water use by about 500,000 acre-feet per year). The editorial degrades “water-intensive” almonds that simply are not grown by any of the Southern California Colorado River agricultural water districts.

What our districts produce, however, are billions of servings of steak, cheese, milk and ice cream that originate from the alfalfa and hay grown on our farms, not to mention the produce, fruit and pasta that stock your salad bars, buffets and kitchen pantries, particularly in the winter.

The editorial ignores several inconvenient truths. The basin states and the federal government have known for decades that, independent of climate change, reoccurring episodic droughts in the Colorado River Basin have reduced the reliable flow below the total apportionments. This reality was labeled a structural deficit, yet no shortage or reduction in diversions occurred until last year. Why? Simply put, other states with junior water rights preferred to defer hard planning and investment decisions until a crisis was imminent and now propose actions that would put billions of dollars of California’s long-term water investments and partnerships at risk.

Similarly, the notion that the Law of the River is outdated and should be discarded is absurd. As the U.S. Supreme Court said in Arizona v. California: “A major purpose of this litigation, from its inception to the present day, has been to provide the necessary assurance to states of the Southwest and to various private interests, of the amount of water they can anticipate to receive from the Colorado River System.”

California has not ignored the Colorado River crisis or blocked efforts to find a consensus solution. In fact, the Colorado River is the sole source of water for the Imperial Valley and many of the lower Colorado River water users and tribes — unlike most other basin states and water agencies that have multiple water supply alternatives. California is the only state to put forth a voluntary proposal to reduce its consumption of Colorado River water despite its senior water rights. This will involve conserving an additional 400,000 acre-feet each year through 2026, leaving up to 1.6 million acre-feet of new water in Lake Mead, in addition to its “drought contingency plan” commitments.

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