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Arizona, California and Nevada announce a plan to cut Colorado River usage for 3 years


Arizona, California and Nevada announce a plan to cut Colorado River usage for 3 years

May 22, 2023 | 2:40 pm ET
By Shondiin Silversmith
Arizona, California and Nevada announce a plan to cut Colorado River usage for 3 years
Water flows from the bypass tubes of Glen Canyon Dam at a rate of approximately 32,000 cubic feet per second Nov. 21, 2004 in Page, Arizona. Photo by Jeff Topping | Getty Images

Arizona, California and Nevada have agreed on a plan to conserve 3 million acre-feet from the Colorado River over the next three years.

“The Lower Basin Plan is the product of months of tireless work by our water managers to develop an agreement that stabilizes the Colorado River system through 2026,” Gov. Katie Hobbs said in a written statement announcing the deal Monday morning. She said the three Lower Basin States now have a path forward to build Colorado River reservoirs back up.

“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,” Hobbs added.

Hobbs, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo announced the agreement on Monday and submitted a letter of support to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland about the plan, noting that the Lower Basin Plan has the support from all seven Colorado River Basin States. 

President Joe Biden praised the agreement as “an important step forward in our efforts to protect the stability of the Colorado River System in the face of climate change and historic drought conditions.”

The Lower Basin Plan, which is a consensus-based system conservation proposal, was submitted to the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation. 

As part of the submission, representatives requested that the submitted proposal be fully analyzed as an action alternative under the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), published last month, according to the Department of Interior.

“I commend our partners in the seven Basin states who have demonstrated leadership and unity of purpose in developing this consensus-based approach to achieve the substantial water conservation necessary to sustain the Colorado River System through 2026,” Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said in a statement. “Reclamation’s SEIS process succeeded in facilitating this agreement, and we will carry forward the consensus proposal by analyzing it under the SEIS.”

According to the Department of Interior, the proposal commits to conserving at least 3 million acre-feet of system water through the end of 2026. Of those system conservation savings, 2.3 million acre-feet will be compensated through funding from the historic Inflation Reduction Act. 

“The product of this collaboration is measurable, verifiable, and enforceable water conservation volumes that provide immediate and substantial support for the Colorado River,” officials stated in the letter. 

The Lower Basin Plan prioritizes early and significant contributions to reduce the risk of Lake Mead and Lake Powell declining to critically low elevations, according to officials, which it will achieve through voluntary agreements from a variety of water users from Arizona, California, and Nevada, including tribes, cities and agriculture.

“The entire Western United States is on the frontlines of climate change — we must work together to address this crisis and the weather extremes between drought and flood,” Newsom said, adding that this historic partnership will help maintain critical water supply for millions as the Lower Basin states work together to “ensure the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System for decades to come.”

“Nevada has long been a leader in regional water conservation efforts, and we’re pleased to continue leading through this agreement with other Lower Basin States,” Lombardo said, adding that, through this partnership, the state of Nevada looks forward to equitably advancing the mutual goal of conserving shared water resources.

“It’s never been more important to protect the Colorado River System, and this partnership is a critical next step in our efforts to sustain this essential water supply,” Lombardo added.

According to officials, the Lower Basin Plan would result in greater protections for Lake Mead and Lake Powell than the alternatives analyzed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a statement submitted in April proposing to revise the 2007 Interim Guidelines for the operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams.

In light of the Lower Basin states’ conservation proposal, the Department of Interior announced Monday that they will be  temporarily withdrawing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The Bureau of Reclamation will publish an updated draft for public comment that will include the consensus-based proposal as an action alternative, according to the Department of Interior.

Rep. Ruben Gallego commended the submission of the Lower Basin Plan and how the state’s water managers and negotiators were able to finalize a deal that protects the Colorado River system.

“Thanks to their efforts, Arizona will have a more stable water system and a chance to rebuild our reservoirs for the coming years,” Gallego said in a statement.

With the Lower Basin Plan set in place, Gallego said he looks forward to keeping up the momentum of pushing for solutions to conserve Arizona’s water and ensuring the people receive the water allocations they rightfully deserve.

***UPDATED: This story has been updated to include a comment from President Joe Biden.