PHOENIX — Arizona officials have appealed to the federal government to settle the dispute over proposed changes to a Colorado River drought plan or delay approval of it.
In a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and the other six states that take water from the Colorado River, Arizona officials said attempts to rewrite an agreement reached earlier this year put Arizona’s share of the river at an unacceptable risk.
California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are the other states involved.
An official with the Southern Nevada Water Authority said Thursday that the agency was not overly concerned by the request for federal mediation.
“This sort of request isn’t terribly uncommon during negotiations,” said J.C. Davis, a spokesman for the water authority.
“The fact that there is a process in place for mediation is telling us that disagreements are going to happen. We’re still optimistic there will be an agreement and we will be able to resolve these issues,” he said.
At issue is whether a new system of managing reservoirs on the river would threaten the portion of Arizona’s allotment that serves Phoenix and Tucson.
Arizona officials argue that changes sought by states on the upper river could deprive Arizona of water even when storage levels in one reservoir were high.
The request for federal mediation could upset an already-tenuous peace among the seven states, which negotiated a plan for more than two years over how to manage the river in times of drought.
The states’ version was undergoing a final review, and Kempthorne was expected to approve it in December.
The government wanted the plan in place to avoid protracted legal battles if drought or shifting climate continued to shrink the river’s flow.
Robert Johnson, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said the Interior Department’s water agency had been working with the states for the past two months to resolve the differences and even delayed release of the final environmental-impact statement on the operating plan.
Johnson said he will meet this week with representatives from the seven states that use Colorado River water.
Review-Journal Capital Bureau writer Sean Whaley contributed to this report.