Pacific Institute’s Michael Cohen Issues Statement Regarding U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement
California, USA (Apr. 10, 2023) – Tomorrow, April 11, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will release its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Near-term Colorado River Operations (draft SEIS), to address the potential for continued low-runoff conditions in the Colorado River Basin. Despite this year’s above-average snowpack, the long-term overuse of Colorado River water, exacerbated by a hotter and drier climate, threatens water availability for the environment and millions of people in the West.
One might think that because the Colorado River is one of the most tightly managed and scrutinized rivers on the planet, we would have a detailed account of how every acre-foot is used, how many people rely on the river, and where those uses take place. Yet, despite the severity of the current crisis and decades of management, research, and litigation, basic facts about the river and the basin remain unknown, challenging efforts to better manage the system and avert the crisis.
The Pacific Institute recently identified the challenges of managing a complex river system in light of so many unknown factors. Despite repeated assertions about “40 million people” using water from the river, the facts show that the population served is actually much lower. Similarly, assertions about total water use and total basin water supply are repeated despite significant uncertainty in the numbers.
“What does this all mean? It means that as we respond to the declining reservoirs and risks of falling below power pool in the next year and a half, decision-makers won’t be armed with accurate or precise data on where and how we can reduce demands, especially in the Upper Basin. It may be difficult to identify just how we can get to the 15-30% reduction in uses as demanded by Reclamation if we don’t know exactly how much water we’re using now. Every acre-foot matters. That demands a detailed accounting of where and how we use Colorado River water” writes Pacific Institute Senior Researcher and Colorado River Expert Michael Cohen.
The challenges of “managing the unmeasured” adds additional complexity to Reclamation’s efforts to reduce the use of Colorado River water.