California Approves Plan to Reduce Colorado River Water Allocation

California Approves Plan to Reduce Colorado River Water Allocation

An aerial view of Lake Mead's "bathtub ring," a white band of mineral deposits showing previous water levels, at Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border on June 28, 2022. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Sophie Li

Sophie Li

3/12/2024

Updated: 3/12/2024

As the decades-long dispute over Colorado River water continues, three lower basin states revealed an agreement on March 6 to reduce their consumption.
The new proposal submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation details agreements among Arizona, California, and Nevada to decrease water usage by up to 1.5 million acre-feet annually if the Colorado River reservoirs’ capacity drops below 58 percent—a reduction representing roughly 17 percent of the total allocation for the three states in most years.
The reduction, amounting to approximately 10 percent of California’s total allocation, is enough to sustain 1.2 million households in Southern California for a year. Currently, the Golden State receives the largest portion of Colorado River water, with an annual allocation of 4.4 million acre-feet.
“It’s a big change that we will have to adapt to as a state,” Bill Hasencamp, the Metropolitan Water District’s manager of Colorado River resources, told CalMatters. “We should be able to tighten up our belt 10 percent.”
The two other states would also share the reduction, with Arizona reducing usage by about 27 percent in most years, while Nevada’s reduction would be around 17 percent.
Mexico would also share the reduction—a proposal that would require separate negotiations.
Under the proposal, if the reservoirs’ level drops below a critical threshold of 38 percent, a basin-wide reduction would kick in for all seven states, amounting to up to 3.9 million acre-feet annually.
“This is not a problem that is caused by one sector, by one state, by one basin. It is a basin-wide problem, and it requires a basin-wide solution,” John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said at a press conference last week.
However, the four upper-basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah are calling for a different approach.
Their proposal, submitted on March 5, aims to address water shortages and bolster storage in Lake Mead and Lake Powell—the river’s largest reservoirs—to ensure sustainable supplies. This approach contrasts with the more expensive saving plan suggested by the lower states, which is based on levels of all reservoirs.
Under their proposal, the Lower Basin states would bear the full burden of absorbing the 3.9 million acre-feet cut.
“We can no longer accept the status quo of Colorado River operations,” said Becky Mitchell, who represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission. “If we want to protect the system and ensure certainty for the 40 million people who rely on this water source, then we need to address the existing imbalance between supply and demand.”
The Southwest states argued that their proposal aims to avoid suspicions that states manipulate water releases, as reported by CalMatters.
Mr. Entsminger said the current system “has led to a number of conflicts between the states since it was implemented in 2007 because literally one foot of elevation difference in Lake Mead or Lake Powell can result in more or less water being released.”
“There were constant suspicions about states gaming the system, being able to manipulate those elevations. And we believe what we are presenting today will remove the ability for this, even any suspicion,” he said during a March 6 briefing.
The disagreement between the basins stems from an ever-growing gap between supply and demand, especially after a severe drought shriveled the 1,450-mile river in 2022.
While the seven states negotiated over which states should reduce their usage and by what extent, the Biden administration criticized them for allowing levels in the river’s main reservoirs to drop dangerously low.
More importantly, the states’ negotiations are under pressure as the November election approaches, which could disrupt the talks by putting a new administration in power.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Sophie Li

Sophie Li

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Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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