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April 18, 2014

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Congress urged to take action on Colorado River

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Sam Morris

The Colorado River, which is the main source of water for Southern Nevada, winds past Willow Beach, Ariz. Future demands on the river’s water supply are projected to far outweigh supply, according to a Department of the Interior study released Dec. 12, 2012.

DURANGO, Colo. — Government officials are urging Congress to consider solutions to deal with possible water shortages in the Colorado River basin that could include finding ways to reduce demand, conservation and better management of water supplies. Other solutions being considered include reuse of water and augmentation from other water sources.

At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, officials said a two-year study by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found the river will not be able to provide enough water for its nearby communities in 50 years. The Colorado River basin and its tributaries supply water to nearly 40 million people in seven states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

"We need to make every drop count," Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said at the Water and Power Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C.

Mike Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, told lawmakers the federal government needs help from each state if plans to save the river are going to work.

Executive Director Kathleen Ferris of Arizona Municipal Water said federal assistance is not necessary now.

She said if states need federal or congressional help, states will ask for it, but she said she is not sure that point has been reached.

The basin has a $26 billion recreational economy, with more than 5 million people visiting each year and supplying about 234,000 jobs across seven states, said Taylor Hawes, the Nature Conservancy's Colorado River program director.

"The region's economic vitality and its rich natural heritage are at risk," Hawes said.

Chairman T. Darryl Vigil of the Colorado River Basin Tribes Partnership voiced tribes' concerns about losing their water rights with decreasing supplies.

"The 10 tribes are very concerned that ... others with far more political clout are relying on unused tribal water supplies and will seek to curtail future tribal water use to protect their own uses," he said.

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