U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX-- Arizona hopes to create a $1.5 million legal
defense fund to protect its Colorado River allocation in case a
simmering dispute among neighboring states turns into a regional
A worst-case loss in court could force the state to give up half
of the water that flows through the Central Arizona Project canal and
leave it in reservoirs to benefit upstream users or satisfy a treaty
Most of that water is now reserved for cities in Maricopa, Pima
and Pinal counties or set aside to settle claims with Indian tribes.
Representatives from all seven Colorado River states were
scheduled to meet in San Diego to consider a plan that might solve
some of the issues without legal action.
The states hope to submit their proposals to Interior Secretary
Gale Norton as part of a larger effort to create a long-term drought
plan for the Colorado.
Drought and growth have pushed the river past its limits and
renewed tensions among the states who rely on the river's water.
Without a workable plan, "litigation is inevitable at some point,"
said Herb Guenther, director of Arizona's Department of Water
Resources. "We've been staring at it for a long time. But we're
trying to avoid the head-on collision and see if we can't work
together on these issues."
Guenther's agency has come up with the first $200,000 for the
defense fund, and Arizona will ask boards governing the CAP and Salt
River Project to contribute similar amounts.
A fund-raising committee will then seek donations from others with
a stake in the river, including cities and home builders, Guenther
There have been long-standing arguments over how the river and its
tributaries are divided among users.
In states along the upper river -- which include Colorado,
Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah -- water taken from tributaries is
counted against the states' shares.
In states on the lower river -- Arizona, Nevada and California --
tributaries are not included in the accounting.
That means Arizona, the primary beneficiary to the difference in
rules, can use water from the Salt and Verde rivers and still take
its full share of the Colorado.
In recent years, Colorado and other upper river states have argued
that the lower river states have abused the rule and, as a result,
take more than they should.
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