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How compacts work – The Colorado River experience. Colorado River Compact (1922) Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – and U.S. Allocates waters based on future needs and water-use priorities.

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how compacts work the colorado river experience
How compacts work – The Colorado River experience
  • Colorado River Compact (1922) Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – and U.S.
    • Allocates waters based on future needs and water-use priorities.
    • After it was ratified, Congress agreed to build Hoover Dam (1928).
    • Arizona refused ratification until 1944, resented “inequitable division of its share of the lower Colorado.”
  • Major issues:
    • Mexico’s share of the river?
    • How determine how much water is available – science and policy?

Colorado River basin Compact

(modified from Harding et. al 1995)

ongoing challenges for the colorado river compact
Ongoing challenges for the Colorado River compact
    • How much water is available? Compact assumes 7.5 million acre-feet in upper and lower basins , rest for Mexico (16.5 MAF total) – not true most years (closer to 11 million acre-feet).
    • Mexico’s share: (1944 treaty – 1.5 million acre ft./year). Desalination plant built in 1970s. Deliveries reliable, but problematic.
    • Arizona vs. California: (1963 Supreme Court decision) – “prior appropriation” doctrine does not apply to “lower basin” states); allowed U.S. government to build Central Arizona Project – to divert water to Phoenix, Tucson (1968) – forced CA to reduce water use to 4 million acre-feet, and decline over time.
  • 1 acre-foot = 386,000 gallons, or enough water for a family of four/one year

Southern California Distribution of Colorado River Compact water


MWD – Metropolitan Water District (LA, Orange, San Diego, portions of Ventura, Riverside & San Bernardino Counties)

CVWD – Coachella Valley Water District

IID – Imperial Irrigation District

PVID – Palo Verde Irrigation District

CRA – Colorado River Aqueduct

other compacts other challenges
Other compacts, other challenges
  • Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint water dispute: (began 1997).
    • Centered on three rapidly growing states; one large metro area (Atlanta).
    • Persistent drought – since 1980s worsens conflict, make negotiations to share water necessary.
    • 1st major U.S. water dispute in a generation not in West.
    • Led to first new river basin compact in over 30 years.
  • Compact will NOT take effect until three states agree on an allocation formula – they’ve been unable to agree for 13 years!

Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin

  • 2.6 million depend on basin for supply , 75% live in metro Atlanta.
  • Serves urban needs , agriculture, fisheries.
  • Severe impacts from runoff, impoundment, channelization.
  • Atlanta near source of Chattahoochee; a small volume river!
  • Inflow to Gulf important; major source of domestically harvested seafood – 15% of nation’s oyster harvest; 80% of Florida’s.

Drought in the South

“Southeast drought hits crisis point”

October 21, 2007

Lake Lanier, Chattahoochee River

The Southeast's worst drought in more than a century is forcing parched states and communities (like Atlanta) into crisis measures to conserve water and fight for access to more . . . "This idea of wait-and-see, because some (rain) might be around the corner, can really suppress timely responses," says Mike Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center.

population growth water use in acf basin
Population Growth & Water Use in ACF Basin

Population growth – 1990-1999 (counties in grey have lost population)

Total water use/consumptive & non-consumptive: 1995

what can we learn from colorado and acf compacts
What can we learn from Colorado and ACF compacts?
  • Compacts need good scientific information– neither compact has fully embraced accurate information abut water availability.
    • Both failed to adequately embrace the reality of drought and low-flow.
    • There is a tendency for negotiators to focus on allocation FIRST, worry about availability 2nd.
    • It’s easier to allocate when you think you have lots of water!
  • Multi-purpose planning is needed – compacts succeed or fail depending on how they embrace regional needs (e.g., in-stream flow, urban supply, irrigation, pollution).
    • CRC better at this than the ACF.
    • Both compacts do a better job of listening to governments than to non-governmental groups (e.g., environmental activists).