Article provided by Craig Kessler, SCGA

May 22, 2023

In light of the Lower Basin states’ conservation proposal, the Biden Administration has announced that it is temporarily withdrawing the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) published last month so that it can fully analyze the effects of the proposal under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The United States Bureau of Reclamation will then publish an updated draft SEIS for public comment with the consensus-based proposal as an action alternative. Accordingly, the original May 30, 2023, deadline for the submission of comments on the draft SEIS is no longer in effect. The Department plans to finalize the SEIS process later this year.

The Arizona/California/Nevada proposal commits the three states to conserve at least 3 million-acre-feet of system water through the end of 2026, when the current operating guidelines are set to expire. Of those system conservation savings, 2.3-million-acre feet will be compensated through funding from last December’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which provided substantial monies to the three states to increase near-term water conservation, build long term system efficiency, and prevent the Colorado River System’s reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production. Under this proposal, the remaining system conservation needed for sustainable operation will be achieved through voluntary, uncompensated reductions by the Lower Basin states.

Early next month, the federal government will formally advance the process for the development of new operating guidelines replacing the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead at the end of 2026. In the coming weeks, expect to see a Notice of Intent for the Environmental Impact Statement related to the post-2026 guidelines. With the three Lower Basin States having come to agreement on how to divvy up the savings necessary to protect the integrity of the Colorado Basin in the short run, both processes are going to proceed in tandem.

As we have been suggesting in all our reporting on this subject, the actions and statements of the three Reclamation States and the United States Government in recent months have all been about positioning themselves to come to precisely the consensus evidenced by today’s breakthrough. The precise details of that consensus – the amount of allocation ceded by each state and each agency within each state – remain to be worked out, but the outlines are clear for Southern California. The State Water Project allocation may be 100% for the first time in years, but we’ll be losing some of our Colorado River water between now and 2026, after which we may well lose even more. Given that golf’s portion of that loss will not be part of the “compensated” savings envisaged through federal largesse – you can fallow farmland; you can’t fallow golf courses – the need to keep reducing the game’s water footprint promises to become just that much more acute, as does the need for the game to make clear to policymakers that golf understands this fact to its very core.

Click here to read the joint letter filed today by the States of Arizona, California, and Nevada – a letter that was well enough received by the Biden Administration to cause the Bureau of Reclamation to withdraw the draconian SEIS it issued after January 31 came and went without agreement among the states on so much as a temporary salve to the Basin’s woes.