After months of negotiations and some missed deadlines, the Biden administration announced on Monday that it had reached an agreement with Colorado River-dependent states to temporarily reduce their water usage in exchange for at least $1 billion in federal funding.
Three million acre feet of water, or roughly 13% of those states’ entire allocation from the river, will be voluntarily conserved by California, Arizona, and Nevada until 2026. Through the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration will reimburse local governments, water utilities, Native American communities, and agricultural businesses for a total of 2.3 million irrigated acres.
Over 40 million people and about 5.5 million acres of farmland in seven U.S. states get their water from the Colorado River. However, the river has become stressed due to growing demand, decreasing reservoir levels, and protracted drought. Significant drops in water levels have been observed in the river’s largest reservoirs, notably Lakes Mead and Powell.
Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation Camille Calimlim Touton remarked, “This is an important step forward towards our shared goal of forging a sustainable path for the basin that millions of people call home.”
Each year, California receives around 4.4 million acre-feet (29% of the overall allocation) from the Colorado River. About 18% of the country’s annual allocation is sent to Arizona, which amounts to about 2.8 million acre-feet. About 2% of the nation’s total allocation is set aside for Nevada each year, or about 300,000 acre feet.
The federal government might potentially force all seven states to reduce their water usage without this temporary agreement. On Monday, the administration decided to rescind its environmental analysis from last month, which would have forced states to reduce their water usage by about 2.1 million acre-feet in 2024.
The news can be confirmed by the tweet below:
The Interior Department’s environmental evaluation will be the final step in implementing today’s plan. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland stated in a statement that “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.”
After talks stalled again in January, six states presented a plan to the Bureau of Reclamation outlining how they would reduce water consumption while also accounting for water lost through evaporation and broken pipes. The state of California has unveiled its own strategy.
The Biden administration had previously asked the seven states to conserve between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of water, or up to a third of the river’s average flow. These states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
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