A large lake in Colorado is being emptied and given to Kansas and Nebraska because the state owes them four billion gallons of water.
By Jon Swaine, New York
11:11PM BST 09 Oct 2011
Bonny Reservoir, a much-loved tourist spot in eastern Colorado, is being drained after the state exceeded its allowance under a 1942 agreement with its neighbours on sharing the Republican River.
The case has highlighted growing tensions over the security of the water supply to the west of the US, which in recent years has suffered repeated droughts, prompting warnings of disaster.
“It is a tragedy,” said Alexandra Davis, the assistant director of water at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “We are facing a huge loss.
But it is the best of a number of bad options.”
The gates of the reservoir have been opened, allowing the water to run naturally along the Republican River to its new home states. Biologists have been scrambling to move the fish that bring thousands of anglers to Bonny each year.
“It is a really bad deal,” Kenneth Condrey, the owner of the nearby Pappa’s Bait Shop, told The Daily Telegraph. “It was such a beautiful spot, and they’re taking it away from future generations.”
Mr Condrey, who has run his shop in Burlington for 11 years, said he would almost certainly be forced to close and move back to his native South Carolina.
The debt, which went unnoticed for decades, became clear in recent years after new technology showed how the Republican waters were being split and Kansan officials re-examined the old agreement.
Experts warn more disputes should be anticipated following long-term drought across the region. The water in Lake Mead, the west’s largest reservoir, which serves 20 million people in Arizona, California and Nevada, has been hovering at the official shortage level for several months.
“It is a canary-in-the-coalmine moment for the west,” said Ms Davis. “We have a rapidly growing population, yet a decreasing water supply because of increased demand for crops, and climate change. We’re going to get more and more trade-offs where all the demands can not be met.”
The water board in Texas, which is currently experiencing its worst drought in 80 years, recently warned the state “does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, and its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises” if the dry spell continues.