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Breakthrough proposal would aid drought-stricken Colorado River as 3 Western states offer cuts

Washington – Arizona, Nevada and California announced on Monday that they were prepared to reduce vaccine use. The Declining Colorado River This is in exchange for federal funding and to avoid forced cuts as drought threatens critical water supplies in the western United States.

$1.2 billion plan, breakthrough potential A year-long stalemateBy 2026, when current guidelines on how to share the river expire, it will save an additional 3 million acre-feet of water. About half of the savings will be achieved by the end of 2024. That’s less than what federal officials said last year would be needed to avert a river crisis, but it would still be a notable step in the long and difficult negotiations between the three states.

At 1,450 miles (2,334 kilometers) in length, the river supplies water to 40 million people in seven U.S. states, parts of Mexico, and more than 20 Native American tribes. It produces hydroelectric power and supplies water to most winter vegetable farms in the country.

Cities, irrigated districts, native american tribe Paid in 3 states. The federal government plans to spend $1.2 billion, said Lauren Wodarsky, a spokeswoman for Nevada Democratic Senator Katherine Cortez Mast.

Adoption of the plan is not certain, but US Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton called it “an important step forward.” She said the agency would withdraw its proposal from last month. Avoid existing water priority systems This is to force reductions while analyzing the Three Kingdoms Plan. The agency’s previous proposal, if adopted, could have escalated into a nasty legal battle.

“At least they’re still talking. But if you have the money, they can keep talking,” said Terry Fulp, former regional director of the U.S. Reclamation Service’s Lower Colorado Region.

The three downstream states are entitled to a total of 7.5 million acre-feet of water from the river. One acre-foot of water is roughly enough to water two to three of her US households for a year.

California enjoys the most rights, based on a century-old water rights priority system. Most of it goes to farmers in the Imperial Irrigation District, but some also goes to smaller water districts and cities in Southern California. Arizona and Nevada have already faced cutbacks in recent years as water levels in key reservoirs fell under prior agreements. But California was spared.

Under the new proposal, California would give up about 1.6 million acre-feet of water by 2026, just over half of it. That’s about the same amount the state first offered six months ago.

But the threat of mandatory federal cuts (which grew stronger in the last month) appears to have prompted action.

“It’s always a concern that states lose control of their own processes,” said John Entzminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The Imperial Irrigation District will account for more than half of California’s water loss. JB Humby, chairman of the California Colorado River Commission, said the district has already taken steps to improve water efficiency and more needs to be done. The district is working on a pilot summer idling program in which farmers register to cut water for 60 days for their feed crops, he said. Yields are already declining at this time of year, and more water is needed, he said.

Bill Hasencamp, Colorado River resource manager for the California Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to 19 million people in Southern California, said the wet winters are simply reducing the state’s water needs. rice field. His school district plans to leave 250,000 acre feet of land on Lake Mead this year, which it won’t remove until after 2026.

The district will also hand over to the federal government a program that pays farmers for fallow land that would normally give them about 130,000 acre-feet of water per year, he said. It will save Metropolitan about $100 million over three years, he said.

Mr. Bouschatke stressed that the announcement is not final.

“We have agreed to the proposal. Bussacke said the proposal still requires federal analysis and approval, which will determine how much money will be allocated to companies that give up water.

Under the plan, the upstream states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming will receive the same amount of water. Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Commission, said upstream states didn’t have the opportunity to analyze their downstream plans in detail.

“While the wet winter has given us a little more room to negotiate, this gift from Mother Nature must not be wasted,” Mitchell said. He said Colorado and other watershed states have urged federal officials to return to long-term discussions about how to maintain the water levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell beyond 2026.

The Colorado River is in danger It has persisted for many years in the West as decades of drought were exacerbated by climate change, increased demand and overuse. Water levels in major reservoirs have fallen to unprecedented lows, but have recovered somewhat thanks to the heavy rainfall this winter.

In recent years, the federal government has cut some water quotas and proposed providing billions of dollars to pay farmers, cities and others to cut back. But key water officials don’t believe these efforts will be enough to prevent the system from collapsing.

Last summer, the U.S. Reclamation Service advised seven basin states how to reduce their collective use of the Colorado River water by about 2 to 4 million acre-feet (roughly 15% to 30% of annual use) in 2023 alone. asked to consider. But states exceeded their deadlines, and no agreement remained.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced plans in April that looked at two ways to force cutbacks in Arizona, Nevada and California. One thought that using the decades-old water priority system would benefit California and some Native American tribes with senior water rights. One more he would have been a reduction in overall percentages.

Michael Cohen, a senior researcher at the Pacific Institute, which specializes in the Colorado River, said the cuts proposed by the three states were “a big jump” and an important step forward.

“It buys us a little more time,” he said. But if there are still drier years ahead, “this deal won’t solve that problem.”

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Contributed by Amy Tuxin, an Associated Press reporter in Orange County. Mr. Naishadam reported from Washington.

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. all rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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