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As the Colorado River dries up, states can’t agree on saving water




For the second time in six months, states that depend on the Colorado River to sustain their farms and cities appear to have failed to reach an agreement on restricting water usage, setting up the prospect that the federal government will make unilateral cuts later this year.

Six of the seven Colorado River basin states sketched out a joint proposal for how they could meet the federal government’s demand to make unprecedented cuts to water usage as more than two decades of drought in the West have pushed crucial reservoirs to dangerously low levels.

But the largest water user, California, did not join them — an impasse that suggests the wrangling over how to conserve the dwindling water supply that serves 40 million people will continue in coming months. The Interior Department had asked states to contribute by Tuesday plans for how to voluntarily reduce water usage by 2 to 4 million acre feet — or up to one-third of the river’s annual average flow.

“Obviously, it’s not going swimmingly,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the former general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a water provider that is a major player in the talks. “It’s pretty tough right now.”

The proposal by the six states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — seeks to protect the major reservoirs in Lake Powell and Lake Mead from falling below critical levels, such as when the dams would no longer be able to generate electricity or at “dead pool,” when water would effectively be blocked from flowing out of these lakes. Before above-average snows in recent weeks, the Bureau of Reclamation was projecting that Lake Powell could start to reach such thresholds by this summer.

Officials fear ‘complete doomsday scenario’ for drought-stricken Colorado River

During the past two decades of drought, and particularly in recent years, the river’s flow has declined but states continue to consume more than the river provides, based on a framework established a century ago.

The proposal lays out potential new cuts for the states of the Southwest that lie downstream from the major reservoirs — Arizona, Nevada, and California — as well as the country of Mexico, which has treaty rights to a portion of the river’s water. The proposal would result in about 2 million acre feet of cuts — the low end of what the federal government has asked for — and would be largest for the biggest consumers of water: California and Arizona. As reservoir levels drop, the document suggests California, which has rights to 4.4 million acre feet of water, would need to cut more than 1 million acre feet.

California has offered to reduce just 400,000 acre feet. An acre foot is 326,000 gallons, or enough to cover an acre in water one foot deep. JB Hamby, chair of the Colorado River Board of California, told the Associated Press in a statement that the state “remains focused on practical solutions that can be implemented now to protect volumes of water in storage without driving conflict and litigation” and will submit its own plan.

The six other states made their case in a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation Monday.

In October 2022, Lake Powell was a quarter full due to a historic drought, which threatened power supplied to millions by the Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Ariz. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

“We recognize that over the past twenty-plus years there is simply far less water flowing into the Colorado River system than the amount that leaves it, and that we have effectively run out of storage to deplete,” the states wrote. The state representatives added that they would continue to work together and with the federal government and others “to reach consensus on how best to share the burden of protecting the system from which we all derive so many benefits.”

“This modeling proposal is a key step in the ongoing dialogue among the Seven Basin States as we continue to seek a collaborative solution to stabilize the Colorado River system,” Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said in a statement.

Reclamation is in the process of an environmental review of how to operate Glen Canyon and Hoover dams at low-water scenarios. By the summer, the process is expected to clarify the federal government’s legal authority to make unilateral cuts to states’ water allotments.

One of the central tensions of these complicated negotiations is how to balance cuts between farming regions against those in cities, including major population centers. Agriculture uses some 80 percent of the river’s water and also tends to have the most senior rights, some dating back to the 19th century. The way this “priority system” works, residents of Phoenix would lose water before vegetable farmers in Yuma. Those who grow alfalfa in Southern California’s Imperial and Coachella valleys would keep their water before people in parts of Los Angeles.

Arizona city cuts off a neighborhood’s water supply amid drought

Kightlinger, along with many other water experts and officials, say cuts of this magnitude and severity have to be shared, rather than doled out according to seniority.

“They can’t follow the priority system. That would be a disaster. That would be: We’re basically going to put all the cuts on the major share of the economy. That just simply can’t be reality,” he said.

But officials in these farming districts with long-standing water rights do not intend to give them up without a fight — or without compensation that meets their needs.

Alex Cardenas, the president of the board of directors of the Imperial Irrigation District, noted that the water rights among the farmers in his area of California near the border with Mexico predate the formation of the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the river system. His water district uses about 2.6 million acre feet of water per year to irrigate more than 400,000 acres of farmland for alfalfa, grasses, and other crops.

“We stand behind the priority system on the river, and we also understand that there’s painful cuts that people need to make. But we will not serve as an emergency reservoir for uncontrollable, unsustainable urban sprawl,” Cardenas said. “We’re not going to wreck our local economy so that they can continue to grow their urban economy.”

As negotiations have progressed in recent months, the Imperial Irrigation District has offered to cut its usage by 250,000 acre feet — or about 10 percent. The Biden administration helped pave the way for that offer by pledging $250 million for environmental projects to address the dust-ravaged shorelines around the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, that’s fed by agricultural runoff from the Imperial Valley.

Cardenas said that the prospect of a 10 percent cut to the region’s $5 billion agricultural economy would mean serious economic pain for a community that already suffers from high unemployment. But from the perspective of other states — even those cuts wouldn’t be nearly enough.

Negotiators have had a bit of help from nature to start the year. The rain and snowstorms that battered California in January have raised reservoir levels in the state and coated the Sierra Nevada mountains in snowpack that is 210 percent above normal for this time of year. The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, the main source of runoff that feeds the Colorado River system, is also higher than normal but not by as much as in California.

California’s snowpack, aided by atmospheric rivers, could help drought

But the bountiful precipitation has also been a double-edged sword, creating a political challenge for negotiators trying to agree on painful cuts, according to analysts following the talks.

“If severe, extreme drought conditions continued then it’s easier for them to sell additional cuts,” said Michael J. Cohen, a senior researcher with the Pacific Institute and an expert on the Colorado River. “But there’s this public perception that look there’s flooding, why do we need to take additional actions now when there was so much water through all these recent storms.”

The past two years have also seen healthy winter snow accumulation in the Rockies only to have runoff levels into Lake Powell that were a fraction of normal, as terrain dried out by the warming climate absorbs more of the water before it can reach the reservoir. The water level in Lake Powell has fallen about a foot this year and currently stands 33 feet above the threshold where Glen Canyon Dam could not longer produce power.

“There’s a problem of aridification. But on top of that there’s a problem with the rules,” Cohen said. “The rules governing the system are not sustainable.”

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A 24 años de la disputa entre Cuba y EE.UU., el ‘balserito’ Elián González’ será diputado en la isla



Las elecciones parlamentarias de este domingo en Cuba cuentan con una heterogénea lista de candidatos en la que hay ministros, altos cargos del Partido Comunista e históricos de la revolución, pero también deportistas, músicos, directores de medios y hasta el «balserito» Elián González.

Estos comicios a la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular (ANPP), el máximo órgano legislativo, son un paso clave en la renovación institucional del país, que empezó en las elecciones locales de noviembre y culminará con el nombramiento del presidente del país.

Al parlamento cubano se presentan 470 candidatos, para 470 puestos, que fueron propuestos por las llamadas agrupaciones de masas, organizaciones paraestatales en la órbita del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC), y que en su inmensa mayoría militan en esta formación, la única legal en la isla, o en sus juventudes.

Los ciudadanos pueden votar por todos los candidatos que se presentan en su distrito (siguiendo el llamado oficial), solo por algunos o por ninguno. Sectores de la disidencia propugnan la abstención.

Fidel Castro participando en el cumpleaños número siete del “balserito” Elián González.

Fidel Castro participando en el cumpleaños número siete del “balserito” Elián González.

El «balserito»​

Según datos oficiales, la candidatura cuenta con un 55 % de mujeres, un 45 % de negros y mulatos, un 95 % de graduados universitarios y un 20 % de jóvenes de entre 18 y 35 años.

Entre estos últimos destaca Elián González, conocido como el «niño balsero«, quien en 1999 se convirtió en el centro de una agria disputa entre Cuba y Estados Unidos por su custodia tras ser rescatado en aguas del Estrecho de la Florida.

El militante de 29 años del Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC), al que los medios de comunicación estatales designan como «representante de lo más digno de la juventud cubana», fue elegido como candidato a la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular (ANPP) de la isla y se ha convertido en uno de los postulantes más jóvenes al órgano legislativo.

Elizabeth Brotons, la madre del pequeño, decidió alejar a su hijo de la deplorable situación de la isla y se embarcó con él en un pequeño bote en dirección a las costas de Florida. Elizabeth y otras nueve personas murieron ahogadas, mientras que Elián, el único superviviente, logró llegar a la costa aferrado a un neumático.

La disputa entre Estados Unidos y Cuba llevó a situaciones tensas. Foto AP

La disputa entre Estados Unidos y Cuba llevó a situaciones tensas. Foto AP

En ese momento empezó una lucha entre los familiares de la madre en Miami y el padre, Juan Miguel González, que contaba con el apoyo de Fidel Castro para llevar al niño de vuelta a Cuba.

Los funcionarios de inmigración de Estados Unidos concedieron la custodia al padre del menor, pero los familiares de la madre se negaron a entregar al niño y forzaron así la intervención del Departamento de Justicia.

A mediados del año 2000, González regresó a Cuba con Elián, donde les recibieron con una manifestación masiva. Ahora el Gobierno de Miguel Díaz Canel quiere revivir la victoria sobre Estados Unidos y explotar la figura del niño balsero que con patriotismo rechaza las tentaciones del impero norteamericano.

De la nomenclatura

La nomenclatura del Gobierno y del PCC está muy presente en la lista, con la figura del presidente del país y primer secretario del PCC, Miguel Díaz-Canel, y la de su antecesor en ambos cargos, Raúl Castro (2008-2018), que a sus 91 años se vuelve a presentar como diputado.

No es el único en la lista de la llamada «generación histórica», la que protagonizó la revolución en la década de 1950. Le acompañan Ramiro Valdés, José Ramón Machado Ventura y Guillermo García Frías, de 90, 92 y 95 años, respectivamente. Éste último es el mayor de todos los candidatos.

Entre los representantes del Ejecutivo destacan el primer ministro, Manuel Marrero; los viceprimeros ministros Inés María Chapman, Jorge Luis Tapia y Ricardo Cabrisas, y los ministros de Exteriores, Justicia y Economía, Bruno Rodríguez, Óscar Manuel Silvera y Alejandro Gil.

No están todos los actuales ministros, pero tampoco es necesario ser diputado para ocupar una cartera del Ejecutivo.

En total, en la lista aparecen 138 altos cargos gubernamentales y 32 dirigentes del PCC, lo que supone más de un tercio de la ANPP.

Para el nuevo Legislativo se postula también un nutrido grupo de militares. Además de los cuatro históricos ya citados, están en la candidatura los ministros de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias y del Interior, Álvaro López y Lázaro Álvarez; los tres jefes regionales del ejército (oriente, centro y occidente); el jefe del Estado Mayor, y el responsable de la Policía Nacional Revolucionaria (PNR).

Artes, ciencias y deportes

En la lista se entremezclan también grandes nombres del deporte, como los campeones olímpicos de lucha grecorromana Mijaín López y de judo Idalys Ortíz; la atleta paralímpica Omara Durand, y la canoista Yarisleidis Cirilo, que a sus 20 años es la candidata más joven.

Son visibles asimismo representantes de la ciencia nacional, como Marta Ayala, directora del Centro de Ingeniería Genética y Biotecnología (CIGB), donde se desarrolló una vacuna contra la covid-19 y la mediática meteoróloga Aylin Justiz.

Entre la docena de artistas que aspiran a un asiento en la ANPP se encuentran el cantautor Raúl Alfonso, el pintor Nelson Domínguez y la directora del Ballet de Camagüey, Regina Balaguer.

El área económica está a su vez representada por 49 dirigentes de empresas estatales, entre quienes destaca la coronel Ania Lastres Morera, presidenta ejecutiva del Grupo Gaesa, el conglomerado militar que controla sectores clave como las telecomunicaciones y el turismo. También hay dos empresarios privados.

Asimismo, sobresale la presencia periodística, con los directores de los periódicos oficiales de difusión nacional Juventud Rebelde y Trabajadores, y de los diarios provinciales de Camagüey y Holguín (oriente), así como los responsables de canales de televisión regionales de Granma y Santiago de Cuba (oriente).

Del área religiosa, están propuestos los titulares del Consejo de Iglesias, la Asociación Abakuá y la Plataforma para el Diálogo Inter-Religioso de Cuba.

Fuente: EFE y Clarín


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