SALT LAKE CITY — The House and Senate on Monday passed legislation that will implement drought contingency measures for the Colorado River — the West's hardest-working river under pressure from nearly two decades of extreme drought.
"This is a totally unique bill," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. "What we have done is allow the seven affected basin states to get together and work out a solution and bring it to us and we in Congress didn't screw it up too badly."
Multiple representatives from the seven Colorado River Basin states — Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, California and New Mexico — spoke on the urgent need for states to implement flexible water savings to ward off possible shortage declarations in the coming years.
In particular, congressional representatives stressed that while this past winter delivered outstanding hydrological conditions in many of the basin states, one good year is not a reason to relax.
"It is not an infinite resource, water, it is a finite resource and we need to treat it that way," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.
Both he and Bishop have been shepherding the bipartisan bill, which authorizes the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Reclamation to enact its provisions.
“The water from the Colorado River is not only the lifeblood for farmers and ranchers in eastern Utah, it also supplies drinking water to the rapidly growing Wasatch Front,” said Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah.
“Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead appear to be operating as designed but both are at uncomfortably low levels. Congress needed to act quickly so that the new agreement can be implemented, and water conservation efforts can begin.”
Added Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz.: "The importance of the Colorado River to the West and to my home state cannot be overstated."
The plans are designed to keep Lake Mead, in particular, from dropping below a level at which shortages would be declared and allow states to embark on water-saving strategies to keep more flows in the river, even as demands grow.
It awaits President Donald Trump's signature.