California, Arizona and Nevada announced agreement Monday to cut use of the Colorado River by 14% in exchange for $1.2 billion in federal grants. The landmark agreement, which runs through 2026, will block mandatory cuts set by the federal government to prevent the critical Colorado River basin from collapsing due to chronic overuse and prolonged drought from climate change.
The 1,450-mile-long Colorado River provides drinking water for 40 million people in seven US states, part of Mexico, and several Native American tribes. It also irrigates 5.5 million acres of productive agricultural land.
The Department of the Interior requires the treaty to be signed before it can take effect. Camille Callimlim Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation of the Department of the Interior, said agreement “An important step toward our shared goal of creating a sustainable path for the basin that millions of people call home.”
The three states agreed to reduce Colorado River consumption by 700,000 acre-feet over the next three years, while local water districts, agricultural operators, cities and Native American tribes cut their use by 2.3 million acre-feet. An acre-foot is the amount of water used by two to three families in a typical year.
The voluntary cuts were about half what the federal government said they were last year, but an exceptionally wet winter and unusually plentiful snow pack brought relief to the seven states that use the Colorado River. The river is bordered by two dam reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. 7 ft and soared to 26 ftfrom April respectively after falling to the crisis level in 2022. Lake Mead is now 30% full and Lake Powell is 27% full.
Arizona, California and Nevada receive their Colorado River allocations from Lake Mead while the four upper basin states – Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – use water directly from the river and its tributaries. All seven basin states still have to reach a long-term arrangement for their use of the dwindling Colorado River after 2026. Los Angeles Times, “It’s about 25% of where we ultimately need to get.”