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Utah signs water agreement with seven western states

Utah recently signed an informal agreement with the six other Colorado River Basin States, Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming, which could potentially avoid bickering over the use and storage of water from the Colorado River. "I truly believe this is an historic document, and someday we'll all look back and say it was a good thing to do," said Larry Anderson, Director of the Utah Division of Water Resources in the Department of Natural Resources.

The Colorado River is managed by a complex set of compacts, court decisions, treaties, state laws, federal laws and other agreements referred to as the "Law of the River." The new agreement does not replace the "Law of the River", but rather adapts it to reflect the current needs and realities.

"In simple terms, the agreement makes provision for coordinated operation of Lakes Powell and Mead during times of low reservoir conditions. It attempts to manage Lake Powell and Lake Mead to minimize shortages and avoid curtailments. It identifies actions the Lower Basin can take to conserve water. It recommends a specific proposal for implementing shortages in the Lower Basin. Finally, it recognizes the need to look out of the basin for additional water supplies to meet future needs in the basin," said Anderson. "The plan carefully considered all needs ranging from power generation to recreation activities on the lakes."

The benefits to the Lower Basin States are:

•The probability of Lake Mead dropping below the critical elevations of 1,050 and 1,000 are reduced by more than 10 percent.

•The magnitudes of shortage in the Lower Basin decrease greatly.

•A new category of water is created called "Intentionally Created Surplus".

The benefits to the Upper Basin States are:

•The Upper Basin will have 20 years to continue develop its Colorado River allocation without challenge from the Lower Basin.

•The likelihood of a Lower Basin call is reduced.

•Pushes the Lower Basin to start looking outside of the Colorado River Basin for water to meet its future needs.

The agreement has been sent to Interior Secretary Gale Norton. The seven states hope Secretary Norton will include the agreement as the preferred alternative in her draft environmental impact statement, due out later this year.

"If approved, it should be bring 20 years of peace on the river," said Anderson.

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