Arizona water utility attempts to calm feud over Colorado River

DENVER — Arizona’s largest water provider tried Tuesday to defuse a multi-state dispute over the Colorado River, saying it regretted the belligerent-sounding words it used to describe its management strategy for the critical, overused waterway.

The Central Arizona Project, which provides water to about 5 million people, pledged to be more cooperative with other river users and promised “to have a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future.”

The river serves 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, and consumption is tightly regulated and closely monitored. An 18-year drought and increasing demand from growing cities have put the river under more strain.

The tension boiled over last month after the Arizona utility said it was trying to keep water levels in Lake Mead high enough to avoid any reduction in its share but low enough to require other users to send more water into the river.

That angered officials in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah, who accused the Central Arizona Project of manipulating the water at the expense of others and putting the entire river system in jeopardy.

The Central Arizona Project initial denied the accusations and described its approach as good management. But after meeting with its critics Monday in Salt Lake City, the utility released a statement saying it “regrets using language and representations that were insensitive” to other river users.

It also pledged to cooperate on drawing up a multi-state plan for possible shortages in the river, which appear more and more likely because of the drought and climate change.

Colorado and Wyoming officials said Tuesday they were encouraged by the Central Arizona Project’s new statement but were waiting to see how it follows through.

“I think we heard an apology yesterday, certainly for the rhetoric they used,” said Patrick T. Tyrrell, Wyoming’s representative on the Colorado River. “The jury’s probably still out till we see what happens with their actions going forward.”

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