“Our work must continue to take action and address the long-term issues of climate change.”
A three-year agreement has been reached between three southwestern states to save 1 trillion gallons of water from the Colorado River.
Arizona, California, and Nevada on Monday proposed what was dubbed the Lower Basin Plan to significantly reduce their water usage from the drought-stricken Colorado River over the next three years. In exchange for the agreement to use less water, the federal government will pay about $1.2 billion to irrigation districts, cities, and Native American tribes in the three states.
The plan would conserve an additional 3 million acre-feet—or roughly 1 trillion gallons—of water from the 1,450-mile river that provides water to 40 million people in seven US states, parts of Mexico, and more than two dozen Native American tribes.
“Thanks to the partnership of our fellow Basin States and historic investments in drought funding, we now have a path forward to build our reservoirs back up in the near-term,” Arizona Gov. Kate Hobbs said in a statement. “From here, our work must continue to take action and address the long-term issues of climate change and overallocation to ensure we have a sustainable Colorado River for all who rely upon it.”
Water Cuts in Exchange for Conservation Investments
The most drastic cuts come in the first year, as the plan requires about 500 billion gallons of water to be conserved in 2024. Conserving the other half would be spread out over the following two years.
While the plan is being developed at the state and national levels, much of the water restrictions would need to be implemented locally.
The funding states receive will come by way of the Inflation Reduction Act, an initiative of the Biden Administration that has already provided nearly $700 million in investments toward saving water for Colorado River Basin states. Some of these investments include:
- $281 million for 21 water recycling projects, saving 127,000 acre-feet annually
- $233 million to the Gila River Indian Community for water conservation
- $73 million for infrastructure repairs on water delivery systems
- $71 million to develop 32 drought resiliency projects
- $20 million in investments for surface and groundwater storage
“There are 40 million people, seven states, and 30 Tribal Nations who rely on the Colorado River Basin for basic services such as drinking water and electricity,” said Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland. “Today’s announcement is a testament to the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to working with states, Tribes and communities throughout the West to find consensus solutions in the face of climate change and sustained drought.”
Details Still Unclear
Specifics of the deal announced Monday were sparse, including exactly how the cuts would be spread out. JB Hamby, chairman of the Colorado River Board of California, said in a statement his state would be responsible for 1.6 million acre-feet in cuts. No details were immediately provided on how Arizona and Nevada would split the rest.
The Colorado River has been in crisis thanks to a multi-decade drought in the West intensified by climate change, rising demand, and overuse. Those pressures have sent water levels at key reservoirs along the river to unprecedented lows, though they have rebounded somewhat thanks to heavy precipitation and deep snowpack this winter.
In recent years, the river’s woes have forced the federal government to cut some water allocations, with incentives in the billions offered up to encourage farmers and municipalities to cut back on water usage.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.