States agree with Biden on deal to protect drought-stricken Colorado River (2023)

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The states along itColorado River-- a vital source of water and energy for the American West -- has struck a deal with the Biden administration to preserve an unprecedented portion of the water supply in exchange for $1.2 billion in federal funds, state and federal officials said on Monday.

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After nearly a year of negotiations and several missed deadlines, the agreement is an interim solution to protect the country's largest reservoirs -Lake PowellAndLake Mead– fall to a critical level in the next three years. These reservoirs have declined dramatically with global warming in the past as wellTwo decades of droughthave reduced the river's natural flow by about 20 percent.

To stabilize the river, the three states that make up the Lower Basin—California, Arizona, and Nevada—agreed to voluntarily conserve 3 million acre feet of water over the next three years, representing 13 percent of the river's total allocation from those states. . The Biden administration has pledged to reimburse states for three-quarters of the water savings -- or 2.3 million acre-feet -- which would translate into about $1.2 billion in federal funding, people familiar with the talks said. Money from the Inflation Reduction Act will pay farmers, Native American tribes, cities and others who voluntarily give up their supplies.


"There are 40 million people, seven states and 30 tribal nations that depend on the Colorado River Basin for basic services like drinking water and electricity," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement Monday. "Today's announcement is a testament to the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to working with states, tribes and communities across the West to find consensus solutions to climate change and ongoing drought."

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Colorado River Drought Explained

Why the Colorado River Matters

Running through seven states, the Colorado River provides water to more than 40 million people and is an important resource for agriculture in the western United StatesThe river has been drying up for decadesand water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead — both reservoirs on the river — hit historic lows last year.

What is causing the Colorado River to dry up?

A combination of chronic water overexploitation and historic drought, accelerated by a warming climate, is draining the river.This year there was a lot of snow in CaliforniaAnd while the snow helps replenish reservoirs, it won't solve the Colorado River crisis or reverse the effects of a 23-year drought.

What is being done to save the Colorado River?

It's complicated.States could agree to reduce water use, or the federal government could step in. But the cuts could affect rural areas, where supermarkets are stocked with fresh produce during the winter months, or the populations of cities like Phoenix and Los Angeles, or both. If nothing is done, experts fear the impact could be even worse.


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However, the deal, first reported by The New York Times on Monday, is not in placetheir outlinesAs the Washington Post reported last week, state and federal officials have met in conference calls and meetings in cities including Las Vegas and Phoenix over the past month. Powered by last month's releaseInternal Environmental Inspection of Reservoir Operation– Described two alternatives for sharing reductions in water use among sub-basin states.

Neither of these alternatives was particularly comfortable for states, which prompted them to compromise. The timing of that state process also forced the issue, as states had until May 30 to submit formal comments on the Interior Department's alternatives. As part of the new deal, Interior plans to suspend the comment period and instead analyze the new proposal as part of the federal environmental review process. The aim is to sign a protocol of decision to revise the 2007 rules governing operations on both lakes.


Tom Buschatzke, Arizona's commissioner for the Colorado River talks, stressed Monday that the agreement is not a final outcome and that the parties agreed to a new proposal for analysis by the Interior Department in the coming months.

"It's important to note that this is not an agreement - it's an agreement to submit a proposal and an agreement on the terms of that proposal for the federal government to analyze," Busatske told reporters. "This is a really critical point that everyone needs to understand."

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D), California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo (R).sent a letterat the Interior, which supports the plan to scrap the draft environmental impact statement released last month and instead analyze the new deal.

"We have been advised that the Lower Basin States' consent proposal would result in greater protection for Lake Mead and Lake Powell than any of the alternatives analyzed under nearly all model conditions," the governors said in the existing environmental impact statement.


The Colorado River is an important source of drinking water for some of the nation's largest cities, such as Los Angeles and Phoenix. The river irrigates farmland that supplies US supermarkets with vegetables during the winter. And it supplies millions of people in the West with cheap hydropower.

But early last year, Biden administration officials worried that water levels in the lakes could soon drop so low that hydroelectric plants would have to be shut down. The small amounts of runoff that reached these lakes — even in years when the Rockies had decent snowpack — fueled fearsThe "Dead Pool" war am Horizont, if the reservoirs could be sunk so low that the dams would effectively block the flow from leakage.

In June, Camille Calimlim Touton, Commissioner for the U.S. The Bureau of Reclamation, before the Senate, says states must stop using 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water — up to one-third of the river's average annual flow — or the federal government will step in to protect the river.


The last time the river basin states – Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico – negotiated cuts in their use, it took nearly six years. This time, Touton gave the States two months to reach an agreement.

Intensive negotiations then began, which exceeded two deadlines and at times led to heated disputes between the parties. Acentral tendencyit was between Arizona and California, the two states that draw the most from Lake Mead. If the cuts in water use were to follow the statutory priority system, Arizona would be hit hard and jeopardize the water supplies of Phoenix and Tucson. If states deviate from the priority system and spread the cuts evenly across the lower basin, California and its territoriesstrong rural areashow the Imperial Valley suffered a severe blow.

The new interstate agreement calls for the Lower Basin to receive at least 3 million acres (3 million acres) by 2026, with at least half of that expected this year. An acre is about 326,000 gallons, which is what it takes to cover an acre of land with a foot of water.


Arizona, California and Nevada are still deciding where all that water savings will come from in their states, but some outlines are already clear. According to a statement from the Colorado River Board of California, California plans to contribute 1.6 million of the 3 million acre feet within three years. California is the largest user of the Colorado River, drawing 4.4 million acre feet per year.

"California's water users will work quickly to implement environmental protection measures that protect the system in the short term," JB Hamby, president of the Colorado River Board of California, said in a statement.

Nevada has committed to protecting 285,000 acre-feet by 2026, according to John Enzminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the state's commissioner for the negotiations.


Enzminger said that amount would be saved to Lake Mead and not reimbursed by the federal government. That's because Nevada, which gets a paltry 300,000 acre-feet a year from the river, wants a chance to reclaim some of that water after 2027.

"For the state, which has legal title to 1.8 percent of the river, the water is more valuable to us than the federal money," Enzminger said in an interview, adding that "it's very reassuring that this is being implemented."

An Arizona official said the state plans to save 1.1 million acre feet of water by 2026.

The agreement includes contingency provisions in case the reservoirs sink more than expected in the next three years. States will take additional measures to protect reservoirs 1,000 feet above sea level in Lake Mead and 3,500 feet in Lake Powell.


The heavy rain andSnowThefell in the western statesin the Winter helped defuse the crisis on the Colorado River and gave negotiators time and space to reach an agreement. With the spring runoff, theThe tanks are starting to get biggerAnd the dire predictions of reaching critical thresholds have been forgotten for the time being.

The reduction of 3 million acres over three years is smaller than some of the plans outlined in the federal government's environmental review. But state and federal officials have said they believe those reductions will be enough to protect the reservoirs through 2026, when states and the federal government plan a major renegotiation of how Colorado River waters should be divided.

As part of this week's agreement, the parties expect the process to officially begin as soon as 2026.

The fact that much of the water savings could happen this year and next — as opposed to starting in 2024 under alternatives outlined in the draft environmental impact statement — makes it a more attractive alternative that would leave reservoirs at higher levels. Entsminger said.

"We think this is good policy," he said. "But there are further steps to make this finally binding and enforceable."

Enzminger said it was also a major advance in protecting a vital water source for the West.

"This is probably the biggest conservation project in the history of the river," he said.

Drought and the Colorado River

What is the Colorado River?The river runs southwest from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California in Mexico and crosses seven states in the western United States. It provides electricity to rural areas and urban areas,it supplies about one in ten Americans.

Why is the river drying up? A combination of chronic water overexploitation and historic drought conditions are wreaking havoc. The drought lasted more than two decades and drained the large reservoirs along the river. The amount of water usedfar exceeds what is actually available.

What's upThe Biden administration is pushing to reduce water use by 2 to 4 million acre feet, and is doing soin negotiations with the seven countries concerned. Despite using more water than any other state, California is the rest.It has presented its own water saving plan.

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