Three of the seven US states that benefit from the Colorado River have agreed to use less water to help preserve the natural resource.
Arizona, California, and Nevada yesterday (May 22) notified Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming that the trio proposed water cuts to preserve “3 million acre-feet (MAF) of Colorado River water” by the end of 2026, with half of those savings due to be achieved by the end of 2024.
The Colorado River has been a crucial reserve for about 40 million people, including 30 Tribal Nations, that depend on its water for drinking, power, and agriculture. But recent droughts have shrunk its flows, reducing the levels of its reservoirs Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which power the Hoover and the Glen Canyon dams. Negotiations to stave off a water crisis in the region started last year.
Earlier this year, a voluntary agreement had seemed unlikely and the Biden administration had been preparing to impose cuts across the seven states. With this new agreement the states can reduce the curbs and distribute them according to their preferences. The states will also be able to access at least $1 billion in federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act.
The agreement is a first step towards addressing the threat of water scarcity in the region, but more needs to be done to ensure sustainability in the area after 2026. That’s also the year in which current agreements on how the river water is shared expire.
The proposed deal must now be approved by the Department of the Interior, which is tasked with conservation. Its review will begin next month.
Quotable: A taste of things to come
“There are significantly more difficult things in the future that are going to have to be agreed to” —John Entsminger, general manager of Southern Nevada Water Authority, quoted in Reuters on May 22.
Colorado River water conservation efforts, by the digits
14%: How much the reduction will cut usage across the three states proposing the recent conservation plan. It’s about half of the reductions federal officials initially called for
28%: Share of full capacity the reservoir stands at today, versus when it was full in the year 2000
23 years: length of the drought the Colorado Basin, the worst in 1,200 years
149%: Runoff into the river’s reservoirs this year versus average, thanks to this year’s winter storms. It buys the seven states some more time by pushing the imminence of the crisis a little further back, although they “recognize that having one good winter does not solve the systemic challenges.”
$8.3 billion: Federal investment in water infrastructure programs over five years, which will focus on drought resilience and expand access to clean water for families, farmers, and wildlife. The investments support a wide array of projects, spanning water reuse and conservation, dam safety, preservation of aquatic life and habitat, irrigation, and small surface water and groundwater storage
$4.6 billion: Amount the Inflation Reduction Act is awarding water management and conservation efforts in the Colorado River Basin and other areas experiencing similar levels of drought
$233 million: How much compensation will go to Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community, urging the tribal nation to leave water in Lake Mead. This includes $83 million “for a water pipeline project that will reuse approximately 20,000 acre-feet of water per year and help shore up elevations at Lake Mead,” according to the Biden administration. Several monetary payments will be made out to tribes, farmers, and families over the course of implementing the plan
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