A deal was struck and announced Monday between the three so-called Lower Basin states on the Colorado River, California, Arizona, and Nevada, ending a stalemate over water usage and threats to the country's two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
Tensions have loomed for months over historic water rights and threatened water-usage cuts coming down from the federal government, after our yearslong drought and continued overuse of Colorado River waters put us on a crash course to disaster. But as of Monday, as CNN reports, California and its Lower Basin neighbors Arizona and Nevada appear to have struck a tentative agreement to voluntarily cut back on their water use beginning next year.
The Department of Interior will now launch a federal environmental review of the plan, and only after the completion of that review will the deal be finalized. Also, the four Upper Basin states, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico, still have not had their say on the plan.
The deal calls for reductions in water use of "at least" 3 million acre-feet through 2026, with a reduction of 1.5 million acre-feet by the end of 2024. In exchange, states, cities, and tribes would be compensated by the feds out of a $1 billion fund coming out of the Inflation Reduction Act.
The hope with this plan is that Lake Mead and Lake Powell will be prevented from becoming "dead pools," which occur when the flow of water into them is so low that water no longer flows through their dams. The agreement contains a provision that allows the feds to impose more extreme water cuts in the event that the two reservoirs reach near-dead-pool levels.
"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," said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a statement.
"For over a century, Reclamation has led with solutions grounded in partnership and collaboration. The agreement today continues in this tradition,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton in a statement. “I am proud of the Reclamation team’s work and thank our partners across the basin and the Basin states representatives for reaching this moment. This is an important step forward towards our shared goal of forging a sustainable path for the basin that millions of people call home.”
Back in September, warning of looming water cuts, Haaland said in a statement, "As a 35th generation New Mexican, I have seen firsthand how climate change is exacerbating the drought crisis and putting pressure on the communities who live across Western landscapes. We must work together to make the tough choices necessary to chart a sustainable future for the Colorado River System on which more than 40 million people depend."
Top image: Charles Wang via Wikimedia Commons