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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday released details of a nearly three-year study probing future shortages in the Colorado River based on demand that will increase over the next 50 years.
The much-anticipated U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Study will explore a whole host of options to counter those projected imbalances, including ambitious new water conservation strategies and Colorado basin diversions to counter shortages.
Salazar, when pressed, did say options like huge diversions to the Colorado Front Range from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers or diverting water from the Snake, Bear or Yellowstone Rivers to boost supplies in the Green River generally won't work.
"There are water import solutions that are impractical from a political and technically feasible point of view," he said. Other options rejected include towing icebergs or big containers of water from Alaska. Desalinzation, however, is an option that has proven successful in reality at places like Yuma desalting plant in Arizona and should be pursued, he added.
The projected shortfall by 60 years — 3.2 million acre-feet of water — will not be solved by any "single silver bullet solution," nor solved by any single entity, Salazar said.
"This study should really serve as a call to action," he said. Where the practice of 50, 60, or 70 years ago was to engage in epic battles and angry legal battles among states dependent on the Colorado River, the paradigm has shifted to one of cooperation, he said.
"We are changing the way we do business on the Colorado River," he said.
Salazar, in the teleconference this morning, was joined by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle and Colorado River Basin States Co-Study Manager Kay Brothers.
Castle said it is paramount for users of the Colorado River system to come together and chart new strategies for the future.
"The problem is one we simply to tackle now," she said.
The study was funded jointly by the bureau and the seven basin states, including Utah. More than 150 proposals to "solve" the shortage problem were received by the bureau, Connors said, and the next step will be to pursue those solutions that are practical.
He, too, stressed that there are no plans to pursue a Missouri River importation.
Spanning seven states, the Colorado River is one of the most critical supplies of water in the western United States and Mexico. Based on data observed over the last century, the consensus among regional water managers, scientists and hydrologists is that it is already over-allocated, a scenario projected to grow even worse in the decades to come.
The report was released on the same day a three-day conference by the Colorado River Users Association gets under way in Las Vegas.