A trio of governors announced a plan to protect the parched Lower Colorado River. Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo submitted their plan to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and the Bureau of Reclamation on May 22. Their goal is to conserve 3 million acre-feet over the next three years. In return, they proposed that the federal government pay $1.2 billion to the municipalities, Native American tribes, and water districts for lower levels of water consumption.
Lower Colorado River Basin
Arizona, California, and Nevada are three of the seven Southwest states that signed the Colorado River Compact in 1922. Together, the three comprise the Lower Division. The Upper Division includes Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. The compact altered the landscape of the Desert Southwest. Lake Mead and Lake Powell were created. Cities such as Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas began to grow. So did their water consumption. Forty million Americans currently rely on the Lower Colorado River for their drinking water.
The century-old compact also failed to account for the heightened water demands of farmers, who irrigate 5.5 million acres of crops annually. Nor did it anticipate the two-decade “megadrought” that has plagued the Desert Southwest. According to climatologists, current drought conditions are the worst in 1,200 years.
“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,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “California has stepped up to make significant cuts to water usage and now, this historic partnership between California and other Lower Basin states will help maintain critical water supply for millions of Americans as we 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,” said Governor Joe Lombardo. “Through this partnership, we look forward to equitably advancing our mutual goal of conserving our 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.”
“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,” said Governor Katie Hobbs. “Thanks to the partnership of our fellow Basin States and historic investments in drought funding, we now have a path forward to build our reservoirs back up in the near-term. 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.”
All seven Colorado River Basin States supported the proposed conservation plan as an action alternative within the Near-Term Colorado River Operations Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.