LAUGHLIN, Nev. (AP) — A group of residents in a southern Nevada town that sits along the Colorado River are organizing a campaign to oppose a proposed pipeline that would divert billions of gallons of river water to southwest Utah, reflecting intensifying struggles over water in the U.S. West.
Laughlin residents Brea Chiodini and Sharon Sauer, both members of the “River Flow Committee” community organization, are collecting signatures for a letter they intend to send to the Bureau of Reclamation about what they see as the project’s dangers, The Laughlin Nevada Times reported.
“Advancing the largest new diversion to the Colorado River in the face of such a drastic decline is bad policy and morally corrupt. If we continue this route, we will run out of water before we have a plan to conserve it and 40+ million residents will face one of the largest water crises in the history of our nation,” Chiodini wrote in the letter.
The Colorado River sustains millions of residents in the U.S. Southwest and northwest Mexico. It nourishes enough farmland to yield 15% of total U.S. crop output and 13% of livestock production. The two repositories where it’s stored — Lake Powell and Lake Mead — have been shrinking for decades due to drought and climate change, forcing water users to contend with the prospect of a future with less water.
As water levels have declined, intra-regional tensions have swelled, prompting further scrutiny from groups like the River Flow Committee of consumption patterns in both growing cities and agricultural swaths of the southwest.
The seven U.S. states and Mexico first agreed to divide up water rights a century ago and are currently renegotiating agreements set to expire in 2026. Last year, the three lower basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — agreed to a drought contingency plan that included cuts to preserve water levels.
The four upper basin states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — historically have not used their full allocation. In states like Utah, farmers have not been forced to keep fields fallow and municipal water districts have not implemented conservation methods like their counterparts in Nevada and Arizona. Washington County, home to the St. George metro, uses more than 300 gallons (1136 liters) per person per day — a fact frequently noted by conservationists and lower basin users who’ve been forced to cut their use.
To prepare for further population growth, the Lake Powell pipeline would transport 86,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water 140 miles (225 kilometers) to Washington County. Proponents argue that Utah has the right to use additional river water, while detractors worry the pipeline could further deplete Lake Powell and trigger additional cuts — which would hit lower basin states first.
In her letter, Chiodini blasted Washington County residents and Utah officials for not trying hard enough to conserve water and compared their efforts to Arizona and Nevada’s “aggressive water conservation goals,” which she said had been in place for decades.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is accepting public comment on the project and its potential environmental impacts until Sept. 8.