A panel of scientists from across the Colorado River region wants more study of the possible effects of climate change before policy decisions are made about the future of the river.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the group of 23 researchers and academics said acting without enough information could create more uncertainty on the Colorado, not less.
They are calling for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct "an independent, science-based review" of work the Department of Interior has done over the past six years to project future supply and demand on the river and suggest ways to stretch water resources in the face of continued drought and uncertainty.
In 2012, the Department of Interior released the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, then followed it up with a set of recommended actions developed in consultation with the seven Western states that share the river and other stakeholders.
In their letter, the scholars from universities and research institutes in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Utah raise concerns about key parts of the department's findings. Specifically, the panel argues that Interior officials may have underestimated the impact of climate change stream flows in the river system and overestimated future water demand by using outdated population and conservation projections.
The scientists also want more analysis on the potential impacts to regional groundwater supplies, water quality and critical wildlife habitat along the shrinking river.
No one from Nevada signed the letter, but Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, fully supports the call for more scientific review. He said Nevada's "water leadership" seems much more interested in "reinforcing how everything is OK" than considering the harsh possibilities that may come from climate change.
"Southern Nevada is in the cross hairs of the whims of the Colorado's flows, be they a trickle of or torrent, but state planners are ignoring how great the risks are and the opportunities to minimize them," Segerblom said in a written statement. "Obviously, as these experts point out today, the pubic is not getting what it needs, and may suffer as a result."
Roughly 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico rely on the Colorado River for water and hydropower. The Las Vegas Valley draws 90 percent of its water from the Colorado by way of Lake Mead. The Southern Nevada Water Authority recently started pulling water from the bottom of the shrinking reservoir using a new $817 million intake system built to insulate the community from drought on the river.