Department Of Interior

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Office of the Secretary
Kip White: 202-513-0684:
For Immediate Release:October 17, 2003
Frank Quimby: 202-208-7291


Historic Day for Colorado, Basin States

Secretary Norton, Gov. Owens Say River Pact
Secures Colorado's Share of Colorado Water


(DENVER, COLORADO) Colorado's water is now Colorado's to develop.
That was the message Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens delivered today after meeting to discuss an historic agreement Norton signed yesterday at Hoover Dam.
"With California's agreement to take specific steps to reduce its over-reliance on Colorado River water, each of the Basin States is now able to use its share of the river's water knowing this conflict has been resolved." Norton said at a news conference with Gov. Owens. "This is a great day for all of the states that benefit from the bounty of the Colorado River and have worked for years to secure their authorized shares."
Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the river's estimated 15 million acre-feet of annual water is divided among seven states: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, and California. Colorado is legally entitled to 3.85 million acre-feet a year, but the state currently uses about 2.5 million acre-feet.
Under the terms of the Colorado River Water Delivery Agreement that Norton signed, California will limit its use of Colorado River water to the state's authorized limit of 4.4 million acre-feet a year, fulfilling a 1929 promise. The reduction, which will take place over the next 14 years, allows the six other Colorado River Basin States to protect their authorized shares to meet their future needs. Their apportionments are no longer at risk from California's overuse.
California had been using up to 800,000 acre-feet a year above its authorized share, causing major concerns in other Basin States that unless that over-reliance was curbed, California might someday seek a permanent right to the extra water it has been using.
"The Agreement is good news for the economy and well-being of a large part of the growing West," Norton said. "It provides assurances of long-term supplies to all the Basin States, and clears the way for market-based water transfers and other tools that are essential to meet the growing water needs of the region."

After her meeting with Gov. Owens, Norton met with state and local water officials at a reception hosted by the Colorado Water Congress, a non-profit state water managers' association. There she noted that the key to meeting California's commitment was quantifying - or dividing -- the state's 4.4 million acre-foot share among its southern farming and urban communities. "The Agreement we signed yesterday is that long-sought Quantification Settlement Agreement that enables California to meet the needs of its citizens, urban and rural, in a way that respects the rights of other Colorado River Basin States," Norton said. The pact clears the way for the largest, long-term agriculture to urban water transfer in U.S. history.
By reallocating the state's share, California will be able to provide water for its growing coastal cities, such as San Diego, while allowing farming communities in Southern California, such as the Imperial Valley, to strengthen their economies through water efficiency projects, canal modernization, conservation, and water marketing. The pact also addresses environmental concerns with the Salton Sea, an inland lake that depends on runoff from Imperial Valley farms.
Because of California's agreement, and the promises made in the agreement, Norton has fully reinstated the Interim Surplus Guidelines, which provides California access to extra Colorado water over 14 years to ease its gradual reduction and lessen pressure on Northern California to send more water south. California had lost that access early this year when it was unable to meet a benchmark requirement for the Quantification Settlement Agreement.
The reinstated Guidelines also will allow Nevada, which lost access to extra water from the Colorado River along with California, to again have access to this water and return to the long-term path it has developed to meet the needs of its growing population.
The Interim Surplus Guidelines --the framework to carry out California's quantification agreement -- were worked out during years of difficult negotiations. In late 2000, California, the other six Basin States, and the Department of the Interior agreed on this framework, which provided California a choice. If the state met all of the Guidelines' benchmarks, it would continue to have access to extra water during the transition to its 4.4 million acre-foot limit. If California failed to meet a benchmark, it would lose access to that extra water.
Despite the efforts of many local, state and federal officials, California failed to meet the first major benchmark under the Interim Surplus Guidelines on Dec. 31, 2002, and automatically lost its access to the extra Colorado River water.
Since then, negotiations among the four California water agencies, the Department, and representatives of all seven Colorado River Basin States have continued, and all parties worked through an astounding series of difficult issues. "But they persevered," Norton said, "and as a result of the hard work, dedication, and persistence of those negotiators, we are here today to celebrate a success for the Colorado River, the State of Colorado, and all the Basin States."
Norton said the agreement also demonstrates "what can be accomplished by working cooperatively -- despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles -- and by using innovative approaches to find solutions to the water supply challenges facing communities across the West."


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