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KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Western states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Feds Could Step In If Western States Don't Agree To Drought Contingency Plan

Lake Powell, which straddles the border between Utah and Arizona, is one of two major western water reservoirs with dwindling supplies.

A Jan. 31 deadline is approaching for the Drought Contingency Plans, a set of agreements between seven states about how to manage dwindling water supplies, including here in the Mountain West.

The region has been in a drought for 19 years now, and water levels continue to retreat in major reservoirs.

Bart Miller with the regional conservation group Western Resource Advocates says the river serves about 40 million people.

“There's a lot at stake,” says Miller, who directs the group’s Healthy Rivers program. “The Drought Contingency Plan is an effort to start taking some proactive actions now that avoid the worst impacts of shortage.”

Miller says the drought planning is short on details, but it’s a way for states including Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to strategize about how to better store water and incentivize people to use less of it.  Without a plan, he says, the states could face involuntary, uncompensated water restrictions in the future.

So far, all states except Arizona -- and a few California water agencies -- have agreed to sign off on the plan. They have until the end of the month. At that point, as Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Brenda Burman has said, her federal agency will step in.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Rae Ellen Bichell was a reporter for KUNC and the Mountain West News Bureau from 2018 to 2020.
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