New push to shore up shrinking Colorado River could reduce water flow to California
CASTRO SPRINGS, CALIF. — Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Storage Project began constructing a giant pipeline along the upper reaches of the upper and middle Colorado River, a $3.2 billion enterprise that could dramatically raise the water level and keep the Colorado River flowing into the San Joaquin Valley.
But even as the project makes progress along a route spanning five states, a new push by environmental groups is aimed at preventing the project from being built unless the river flows to the sea in every direction from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta to the Pacific Ocean by December 2017.
The coalition of environmental groups, led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), is demanding that the Bureau of Reclamation immediately halt construction of the pipeline and make the water levels at which it operates part of the conservation law requiring maximum water flows to the ocean. By that date, any increase in river flow to the ocean would only serve to delay the project and not protect California from a worsening drought, according to a report issued this month by the CBD and its California office.
“We are deeply troubled by the Bureau of Reclamation’s plans to deepen the water level of its already water-short and drought-prone Colorado River to construct the first major interstate water improvement project in the U.S. in decades,” said Dan Kish, CBD’s senior counsel. “This plan was developed in secret, without any input from the public, and it will threaten California’s vital water supply in unprecedented ways.”
But the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the majority of the project’s water rights, insisted last month that the project would be built safely, even while a second major environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, released a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation warning that the project could endanger the lives of the endangered whooping cranes who nest atop the endangered Sierra Nevada.
“We know the project presents a significant threat of catastrophic failure to the California whooping crane population, and other endangered species,” the letter said.
A few weeks after that letter was sent, the Bureau of Reclamation released its statement to the press denying the threat to the whoopers, asserting that the project’