The seven states that rely on the Colorado River for power and drinking water have reached a deal on cuts to keep the drought-stricken river flowing.
Three states — Arizona, California and Nevada — have agreed on a plan to conserve at least 3 million acre feet of water by 2026 — roughly the equivalent to the amount of water it would take to fill 6 million Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The Biden Administration, which brokered the agreement, announced the consensus deal Monday in a news release.
The seven states that rely upon the Colorado River were on the precipice of crisis after decades of overuse. Before a banner winter of snowfall, the reservoir at Lake Mead had become so drained that it was nearing — “dead pool” status — when flow would be cut off to lower regions because river levels were falling too low to pass through the dams.
About 40 million people rely on the Colorado River for drinking water. Utilities depend on it to generate electricity at dams on Lake Mead and Lake Powell and keep power flowing in several states.
The deal should avert the near-term crisis and put the states on a more sustainable trajectory for water use, but it calls for less conservation than some scientists say is required to stabilize the river after a more than two-decade drought. The deal also prevents a political predicament for the Biden administration, which would have been forced to enforce cuts unilaterally if the states could not negotiate an agreement amongst themselves.
“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,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.
As part of the agreement, the administration will use funding from the Inflation Reduction Act to compensate some farmers and other water users who temporarily agree to cuts. The Biden administration has agreed to temporarily withdraw the plans it drew up from dramatic cuts in case the state negotiations failed as it analyzes the states’ agreement.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.