More water restrictions likely as California pledges to cut use of Colorado River supply By David Dayen and Kevin J. O’Connell, Associated Press, February 8, 2019
California officials have warned that they might have to cut use of the Colorado River for water supplies, under the threat of a federal court ruling.
California Department of Water Resources Director Mike Williams told an audience of farmers in Sacramento Friday that the state’s water supply may actually be at risk from the federal government’s decision to cap water deliveries to a third of the state’s water users—mostly farmers with more than five irrigators—through an ongoing legal battle over who controls the river.
“If the feds do not withdraw the claim of California water rights to the Colorado River, we could, in the future, need to make reductions for the use of water in order to maintain those rights,” he said.
The state is scheduled to give its final approval to the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s plan on Monday, which would reduce the flow through the entire basin by between 80 percent and 95 percent over the next two years to comply with a court ruling earlier this year. The federal agency has said that any reductions could be offset by other sources.
But Williams said Friday that California could find itself unable to make those cuts due to a court ruling that said the use of water by the state’s farmers was exempt from the Reclamation’s control. The state’s farmers rely on the Colorado River for as much as 90 percent of their water.
“We have a legal question now about the status of our water rights, and we don’t know how that will play out in the federal court case,” Williams said.
He said officials are looking at reducing water supplies by between 4 and 10 percent to meet the water needs of farmers in the lower Colorado River basin, which is home to some of the state’s most productive farmland.
It would be the first time in nearly 80 years that California would need to make cuts to meet its water needs, as more water from the federal government is directed to the Pacific