Salton Sea cleanup in jeopardy as states battle over Colorado River water
State officials are threatening to halt a cleanup at the site of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, as they battle over whether Colorado River water is clean enough to sustain wildlife and other people downstream.
The threat came after President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to release the Colorado River water to state and local agencies for use in downstream needs, even though the federal government’s legal authority to do so has been questioned.
Trump’s executive order “was an unprecedented and unauthorized use of executive power by the president,” attorneys said, accusing the federal and state governments of “egregiously disregarding the authority of Congress.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on Trump’s authority to direct the water flow on the Colorado River. The high court’s decision is expected by the end of June.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who signed the executive order, acknowledged that “the use of water from the Colorado River is in dispute.” But he noted that the Colorado River is a “public trust” and that the water is used for “all purposes, for all uses by all people.”
“This is a situation where decisions about the use of public water are made by Colorado and the federal government in the context of the entire project,” Polis said in a statement. “A legal battle between the two governments is not one that I am in favor of, but neither is the continuation of the project.”
Polis and state and local officials have argued that the high court’s decision would open the way for further state appropriation of Colorado River water from the river, effectively overturning an Obama administration decision to release water to Colorado and other states.
Trump’s executive order, which Polis signed on Feb. 24, has also prompted state, county and municipal governments to sue the federal government over the water, which has been diverted from the Columbia River.
Colorado officials are still hopeful Trump’s order could lead to the release of water to Colorado. But the state and a coalition of conservation groups fear it would be too