In Worst Scenario of Drought, UT Sends Water to CA

In Worst Scenario of Drought, UT Sends Water to CA

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John Hollenhorst ReportingSuppose the drought got really bad, we're talking really bad, and you had to give your water to a guy in California. Believe it or not, that's exactly the position the state of Utah would be in.

In the worst-case scenario, Utahns would have to send their water out of state. This seemingly unfair possibility has the force of law.

Thanks to one of the worst droughts ever, Lake Powell has dropped more than a hundred feet. Now imagine a hypothetical situation. Extreme drought for another several more years and Lake Powell goes dry. Utah would be hurting severely for water. But we'd be forced to give up a huge amount from such places as the Uintah Mountains. We'd have to send it down the Colorado River to Arizona, Nevada and California.

River official Wayne Cook says cities and farms in Utah would suffer the consequences.

Wayne Cook, Upper Colorado River Commission: “Cutbacks would have to be administered within the upper basin states.”

You'd think that if we have to stand here in Utah and take it, whether it's rain, snow, sleet or hail, you'd think we'd own the water. You'd think! But because of an 80-year old agreement, it doesn't really work that way.

In the 1920's the water was divvied up in an agreement known as the Colorado River Compact. The four upper states agreed to send the three lower states an average of 7.5 million acre feet each year. In theory, the upper states get an equal amount. It works fine as long as nature keeps re-filling the reservoirs.

Wayne Cook: “If you have enough storage, the volume is there.”

But even if the reservoirs are empty, the lower states get the same amount. We have to make do with less. Is that a fair distribution of the drought's impact?

Wayne Cook: "Hah, hah, hah, well, I don't know whether fair is an appropriate term. But obviously these are circumstances that I think they didn't think would happen when they framed the compact."

To get that worst-case scenario, Cook says Mother Nature would have to dish out five more years as dry as the three driest on record.

Wayne Cook: “Is that very likely? I don’t think that is vary likely to happen.”

Even after one of the worst droughts ever, Lake Powell is still 42 percent full. Cook says that shows the system is working, so far.

Cities on the Wasatch Front are not actually in the Colorado River drainage. But we use water from the Colorado anyway, thanks to deliveries from the Central Utah Project.

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