California, Nevada, and Arizona have reached an agreement on how to address concerns with the Colorado River. The Lower Basin Plan was accepted after nearly a year of negotiation and development. The three states will conserve three million acre-feet of river water through the end of 2026. At least 1.5 million acre-feet of that total is expected to be saved by the end of 2024. The U.S. Department of Interior will be advancing the process of developing new operating guidelines sometime next month.
“The Lower Basin Plan will generate unprecedented volumes of conservation that will build elevation in Lake Mead, make strategic use of the improved hydrology, and build upon partnerships within and among states, urban water agencies, agricultural irrigation districts, and Basin Tribes who rely upon and share the Colorado River,” Colorado River Board of California Chairman, JB Hamby said in a press release.
The conservation amounts to approximately 13 percent less water used by the three states. Federal compensation will be made available in exchange for conserving 2.3 million acre-feet of water. Funding will come from the Inflation Reduction Act. The amount of compensation is expected to be approximately $1.2 billion. The remaining 700,000 acre-feet of water will be conserved through voluntary reductions by Lower Basin states.
Prior to the agreement, several federal plans were proposed to prevent Lake Mead from reaching dead pool, stopping operation of the Hoover Dam. The natural flow of the Colorado River has been reduced by approximately 20 percent in light of recent droughts. One proposed plan would have overridden senior water rights in California, severely impacting farmers in the Imperial Valley. The consensus-based proposal from the three Lower Basin states should delay any potential federal intervention until after 2026. While not a complete resolution to the issue, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner, Camille Calimlim Touton acknowledged that the agreement “is an important step forward towards our shared goal of forging a sustainable path for the basin.”