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7 states vow to use the Colorado wisely

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The seven U.S. states that rely on water from the Colorado River, a river that "is asked to do so much with so little," vowed Monday to combine their efforts to use the resource wisely.

Amid promises of working together and avoiding future litigation, representatives from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming committed themselves to helping California, the seventh Colorado River state, use its share of water and no more. The state officials testified Monday in Salt Lake City at a field hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water and Power.

"Shared solutions are really the only solutions that can be found on the river," said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

California currently uses more than 5.2 million acre-feet of water from the river each year. It is apportioned only 4.4 million acre-feet annually and plans to meet that requirement by 2016. One acre-foot of water is equal to about 326,000 gallons, the amount of water needed to sustain a family of five for about one year.

Southern California is dependent on the river for 60 percent of its water needs, said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., a member of the subcommittee.

Calvert asked those testifying whether or not they would support federal funding to help California reach its "4.4" goal. All said they did, but ultimately left the "burden on the state to meet its obligation," Mulroy said.

Thomas Davidson, Wyoming deputy attorney general, said he is opposed to any "slippage in the schedule."

"We are hopeful that we'll be able to work out among the competing interests," said Jeanine Jones, drought preparedness manager for the California Department of Water Resources.

Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, chairman of the House Resources Committee, emphasized that "we're counting on it."

Even if all the pieces regarding California are pulled together, unknowns still remain, Davidson said.

One of these is the allocation of water to Mexico.

Kent Holsinger, assistant director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said the committee needs to consider its priorities regarding using Colorado River water to "address any perceived problem there."

The federal government has planned talks regarding Mexico's use of Colorado River water this September, and Davidson said he hopes the states are involved.

"We are hoping to be included as much as possible," he said. Otherwise, disputes are almost inevitable as the states all want to protect their rights to the river water, he said.

But there was no dispute among those testifying and the committee regarding the draining of Lake Powell in southern Utah; they all said they oppose it.

"If we drain Lake Powell, the whole shooting match is gone," Hansen said.

However, some in the audience were there to voice their support of draining the lake created by the Glen Canyon Dam.

David Orr of Living Rivers said the committee's plans were shortsighted.

"These proceedings are about management for the next few years," he said. "They won't deal with the future; in the bigger scheme of things (California) doesn't depend on Lake Powell."

Orr said a primary problem in maintaining Lake Powell is that so much water is lost to evaporation, concentrating salts and pollutants.

"We have a major challenge here," he said.

Hansen said that fitting like hand in glove with management of the river is the issue of endangered species. The main problem, he said, is the constant listing and delisting of species and the ease with which species can be added to the list.

Davidson said he believes a more uniform and realistic process based on science is needed to determine what should be listed.

E-MAIL: lwhite@desnews.com