Romney and the looming Colorado River clash

Posted at 6:41 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 13:18:10-04

One of the most critical negotiations for Utah's future is coming at a time when Utah's delegation in Washington D.C. may be less influential than every other party at the table.

The Colorado River Compact, hammered out in 1922 with few amendments over the years, expires in 2026. Every other state in the compact other than Utah has a majority Democratic or split delegation in Washington.

Those states? Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California.

Of course, the trajectory of American politics has the potential to change every two years. Also, an issue like water can inspire commonsense compromise between politicians sharing a regional understanding of what’s at stake if such compromise is possible in this age of division.

Barring one of those trajectory changes, Sen. Mitt Romney may be Utah's most likely candidate for that negotiation.

He wants to be part of it.

"I do think it's only fair that Utah gets to take care of the allocation that's been agreed to with the other states," Romney told FOX 13.

That allocation under the current compact is 23% of the 50% of water granted to "upper basin" states of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.

READ: Utah prepares for water restrictions in drought emergency

Utah has never taken all of that because very few Utahns live near the Colorado River and it's tributaries.

The biggest Utah cities in the area: Vernal, Price, Blanding, Monticello and Moab.

But Utah's Republicans are determined to add St. George to that list.

Currently, California is allowed to take what's left in surplus if other states don't use it. After all, they're the last U.S. state downstream.

Romney says that can't become the rule.

"States that have been taking a disproportionate share, more than they were entitled to under prior agreements, have to rethink how they're going to be working going forward," said Romney.

Even if states were to agree on a formula, the Colorado River isn't all that big, especially considering more than 40 million people rely on it as a primary water source.

Also, it doesn't flow at anywhere near the same levels as it did in 1922, which happened to be a particularly wet season.

You can't negotiate with rain. But you might help it along with conservation and reduced emissions, which is another reason Romney might be the one at the table with Western progressives. He talks about climate change.

"We just need to think through how we're going to deal with the water shortages which are existing as a result of climate change and adopt conservation practices and allocation of water that's consistent with the new reality," Romney said.