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Government study projects long-term shortages in Colorado River water

A three-year study by the U.S. Department of the Interior on the Colorado River Basin’s long-term supply and demand was released Wednesday, projecting water shortages over the next 50 years.

The information comes just two weeks after the San Diego County Water Authority gave the green light on an agreement to purchase locally produced desalinated seawater from the proposed Carlsbad Desalination Project within just a few years.

According to the Water Authority, nearly half of the water used in the 5,200-square-mile region dependent on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — formed originally in 1928 to import water to Southern California from the Colorado River and including San Diego — is supplied by MWD.

The desire to lessen San Diego’s dependence on MWD and the Colorado River was among many of the arguments brought forward during discussions leading to the water purchase agreement for the future production of desalinated local water.

The Department of the Interior study, which was authorized by Congress and jointly funded and prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states, projected that the average imbalance in future supply and demand is projected to be greater than 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060. In a statement released Wednesday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said diligent planning and collaboration from all stakeholders would be needed to identify and move forward with practical solutions.

"There's no silver bullet to solve the imbalance between the demand for water and the supply in the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years,” Salazar said.

Following the announcement, MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said in a release that the study shows the need for continuance and expansion of MWD’s efforts in recent years to curb its reliance on Colorado River water.

“California has made significant investments to reduce its reliance on the Colorado River water, lowering the state’s river diversions by more than 500,000 acre-feet per year since 2003,” Kightlinger said. “Existing programs and agreements, for example, enhance conservation, increase agricultural efficiency and allow districts like Metropolitan to store conserved water supplies in Lake Mead.”

He hopes the study will lead to additional partnerships with other Colorado River users to develop mutually beneficial projects, Kightlinger added.

The study includes more than 150 proposals from study participants, stakeholders and the public that represent a wide range of potential options, but did not include a decision as to how future imbalances should or will be addressed.

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