LAS VEGAS (AP) — In the face of a future of dwindling Colorado River water and intense federal pressure, Arizona, California and Nevada have proposed plans to drastically cut their water use.
The proposals announced Monday are not final. The plan asks cities, irrigation districts, and Native American tribes to accept federal funding and possibly volunteers to reduce their water use over the next three years.
The 3 million acre-feet each state is proposing to cut by 2026 represents about 10% of the overall water allocation. An acre-foot is enough water to supply two to three of her households in the United States for a year.
The Biden administration plans to spend about $1.2 billion to compensate for the cut in water users.
Flowing through the western United States, this river supplies 40 million people with drinking water, as well as water for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation.
The watershed agreement broke a deadlock that could have embroiled seven states that depend on the river in a costly and lengthy legal battle, but the amount of water provided was demanded by the federal government last June. It wasn’t enough.
This plan is formulated through compulsory reduction and voluntary reduction. The goal is to conserve an additional 1.5 million acre-feet by the end of 2024.
California is entitled to 4.4 million acre-feet of water annually, Arizona to 2.8 million acre-feet, and Nevada to 300,000 acre-feet.
What does that mean for Arizona?
Arizona has already endured a federally mandated drawdown to match the level of Lake Mead for two years. The latest proposals from the three states will affect farms in eight cities and tribal areas that receive water through the Central Arizona project, said Brenda Berman, general manager of the entity.
Under Nevada and California commitments, Arizona will receive an additional 1.1 million acre-feet of logging. The state’s water authority declined to confirm the number, saying it was discussing how to share the savings with other water users.
“Part of the math for these cities is, ‘We’re going to step up here, we’re going to do this, and we’ll probably avoid a bigger forced cut,'” said Arizona Water Resources Director Tom Bustschke. I think,’ he said.
Much of Colorado’s Colorado River supply is delivered through the canal system to dozens of water users, including cities in the metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson, Native American tribes, businesses, and farms. Some of the water savings are expected to come from a long-running program to fund leaving water in Lake Mead, the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam outside Las Vegas.
Already, the Gila River Indian Community and Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in the Phoenix metropolitan area have agreed to reduce water use in exchange for tens of millions of dollars.
The plan is to increase the water levels of the main reservoirs, Lake Powell and Mead, rather than simply protecting them, Bussacke said. Both are less than one-third full.
“This is a short-term deal to build stability,” Berman said. “We all know we have to learn to live with smaller rivers.”
what about california?
California pledged to conserve 1.6 million acre-feet of water, about half of it, under Monday’s agreement.
The Imperial Irrigation District supplies the crop-rich Imperial Valley in southeastern California and is the largest recipient of water from a single river. According to JB Hamby, California Colorado River Commission Chair and District Board Member, JB Hamby, a district board member and chairman of the California Colorado River Commission, said the district suffered from the heat of the summer. To save water during the season, farmers will work on a pilot program in which they cut off the water supply for forage crops such as alfalfa for 60 days.
It may affect dairy farmers, but farmers, their workers and consumers won’t be hit hard, he said.
Another important recipient of river water is the California Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to 19 million people in six counties, including Los Angeles.
The district has benefited from a winter that swept through the state and flooded California for the first time in years. The Metropolitan will look to other water sources this year, leaving about 250,000 acre-feet of Lake Mead, according to Bill Hasencamp, the district’s Colorado River resource manager.
In exchange for about 130,000 acre-feet of water per year, the district typically pays fallow rents to nearby farming districts. Under this plan, the district would instead have the federal government purchase its water.
What’s the situation in Nevada?
With a population of 2.3 million and nearly 40 million visitors annually, the Las Vegas area relies almost entirely on water drawn from Lake Mead by the Colorado River. But due to strict water use laws and conservation measures, residents and tourists are likely to be unaware of changes in water supplies in the coming months. Ranches, farms, and rural towns elsewhere in Nevada rely on groundwater and other water sources.
Under Monday’s plan, Nevada will save about 285,000 additional acre-feet of water, the Regional Southern Nevada Water Authority said.
Nevada has historically not been allotted all the water in the Colorado River. The famous fountains on the Las Vegas Strip use recycled water, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority has banned the use of water on front lawns in new neighborhoods for the past 20 years. Office parks and road median lawns are also banned, and the size of home swimming pools is also limited.
No agreement has been reached. why now?
States have struggled to come to an agreement since river administrators, the U.S. Reclamation Service, called for quick and deep cuts last summer to avert a crisis. A series of winter storms have restored snow cover in the mountains, making it somewhat less urgent for now, but the state agrees some reductions are still needed.
The federal government has been threatening unilateral action since last summer, but reclamation officials did not document what that would look like until last month. They proposed two ways to force the cuts. One is to rely on existing decades-old water priority systems, or to force reductions on a proportional basis across the board. The latter case could have resulted in lengthy and complicated litigation that most parties did not want.
A wet winter, the fear of a nasty legal battle, and the promise of a federal budget all seemed to help bring everyone to the table.
“It’s always a concern that states lose control of their own processes,” said John Entzminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
what happens next?
Reclamation has extended the deadline for comments on previous proposals to 30 May to allow the environmental and other impacts of the three countries’ proposals to be assessed.
A final decision is expected by mid-August, when federal officials will outline the state of the river next year.
If the deal goes through, the pact would last until 2026, when other regulations and guidelines expire.
By Ken Ritter, Amy Tasin, and Suman Naishadam. Mr. Naishadam reported from Washington, DC and Mr. Tuxin reported from Orange County, California.
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