Feds could intervene in process if agreements aren't reached

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FARMINGTON — The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Department of the Interior have given Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the six other governors of Colorado River Basin states from March 4-15 to provide input for a new plan to prevent Lake Powell and Lake Mead from dropping to critically low levels.

The federal government could intervene in the drought contingency planning process this year because the lower-basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — failed to reach an agreement on their drought contingency plan by the end of January. Those states were ordered to reach such an agreement by Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman during the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in December.

If drought contingency plans are not completed, the federal government will make rules on how water is distributed if water shortages occur.

The four upper-basin states — New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — approved a drought contingency plan in December.

Arizona’s governor signed legislation Thursday evening that would pave the way for that state to join in the lower-basin states’ drought contingency plan, if and when they finalize it. That led the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Reclamation to issue a notice today in the Federal Register asking the seven governors for recommendations on actions that could be taken before August to reduce or mitigate risks of water shortage and the impacts of drought.

The upper basin of the Colorado River includes the San Juan and Animas rivers in San Juan County. The drought contingency plan for the upper basin calls for using Navajo Lake to balance the Lake Powell water level. Water could be released from Navajo Lake if the level in Lake Powell drops.

If the seven states do agree on drought contingency plans by March, the bureau will rescind its request for input. If that occurs, the states’ drought contingency plans likely will be used in place of the proposed federal actions.

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