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Cannon leads the charge in water tiff

Don’t let California take too much from basin, Norton urged

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WASHINGTON — House members from the Colorado River Basin — led by Chris Cannon, R-Utah — are urging Interior Secretary Gale Norton to hold firm in her decision to stop California from taking more than its allocated share of river water.

"As representatives of the Colorado River Basin states, we are writing to urge you to stay the course," they said in a letter spearheaded by Cannon and Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo.

It was signed by 18 other members — including Jim Matheson, D-Utah — from the Colorado River Basin states of Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

On New Year's Day, the Interior Department started cutting back the amount of water from the Colorado River that had been going to California — ending a practice of allowing it to take more than its allotted share because states upstream had taken less than they were allowed.

Norton called that "a turning point in the history of the river."

Cannon and the other Colorado Basin lawmakers pledged in the letter to Norton to work with her as she proceeds "on the steps necessary to enforce the law limiting California's use of the Colorado River."

They wrote, "For nearly a decade, the Department of Interior has made it clear that California needed to find a plan to reduce its annual allocation of Colorado River water. Despite the ample opportunities afforded California during this time, the affected water entities have failed to find a way."

The members added that they believe California has not only failed to live up to its agreements on water apportionment, but that its leaders "are also now raising issues unrelated to the immediate need to reduce their overindulgent hydrologic appetite" in fighting to regain the water.

They wrote, "You have made a difficult, yet fair decision, and it is time for the California parties to do the same."

For years, California used excess water from the Colorado because other states didn't use the full amount they were entitled to under a 1929 accord. Rapid growth in the West, combined with the worst drought in the river's recorded history, has forced the Interior Department to crack down.

Utah's annual allotment is 1.36 million acre-feet, of which it uses 950,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is roughly the amount of water used by a family of five for a year.

Until a resolution is reached, Utah's unused share of about 400,000 acre-feet will accumulate behind Glen Canyon Dam.

E-mail: lee@desnews.com