From: Ken Ritter, Associated Press
Published May 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Interior Secretary Turns Down Request to Reduce Release of Colorado River Water

LAS VEGAS — California, Arizona and Nevada have scored an apparent victory in an ongoing dispute with four other Western states over how best to share water from the Colorado River in times of drought.


Interior Secretary Gale Norton on Monday rejected a plea to reduce releases of Colorado River water from drought-depleted Lake Powell, the country's second-largest manmade lake and one of two main reservoirs on the river.


"This is a good thing for us. This is exactly what we would have wanted," said Bob Barrett, spokesman for the Central Arizona Project, which runs the canal system pumping Colorado River water to central and southern Arizona.


Questions about how much water should be released from Lake Powell have split the states that rely on the river for drinking water and power.


California, Arizona and Nevada have maintained that holding water back at Lake Powell would threaten their ability to draw water and power from Lake Mead downstream, now at 62 percent capacity.


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But Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico argued that heavy winter rains raised Lake Mead enough to justify an unprecedented reduction in water released from Lake Powell, now at 34 percent capacity.


"One year of average runoff doesn't break the drought," said Don Whipple, an official with the Interstate Stream Commission in New Mexico. "It might slow it down, but it doesn't break it."


Lake Powell serves the upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. Lake Mead, downstream, is on the Nevada-Arizona border about 30 miles east of Las Vegas.


The two lakes are the largest of more than 40 reservoirs capturing Colorado River basin water. A 1922 agreement allocating Colorado River water does not specify how water should be divvied up during drought. Last fall, Norton asked the states to find a way, but state officials failed to reach agreement last week.


In letters sent to governors and water officials in the seven states, Norton said melting snow is projected to be slightly above average for the rest of the year and more water is stored in reservoirs now than had been projected.


Changing the amount of water released from Lake Powell "is not warranted" during the next five months, she said.


Norton wants another review next April to see if adjustments should be made.


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Associated Press writers Mary Perea in Albuquerque and Michelle Roberts in Phoenix contributed to this report.


Source: Associated Press


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