Breakthrough proposal would aid drought-stricken Colorado River as 3 Western states offer cuts

LAS VEGAS — Arizona, Nevada and California said Monday they’re willing to cut back on their use of the dwindling Colorado River in exchange for money from the federal government — and to avoid forced cuts as drought threatens the key water supply for the U.S. West.

The $1.2 billion plan, a potential breakthrough in a year-long stalemate, would conserve an additional 3 million acre-feet of water through 2026, when current guidelines for how the river is shared expire. About half the cuts would come by the end of 2024. That’s less than what federal officials said last year would be needed to stave off crisis in the river but still marks a notable step in long and difficult negotiations between the three states.

ADVERTISING


The 1,450-mile (2,334-kilometer) river provides water to 40 million people in seven U.S. states, parts of Mexico and more than two dozen Native American tribes. It produces hydropower and supplies water to farms that grow most of the nation’s winter vegetables.

In exchange for temporarily using less water, cities, irrigation districts and Native American tribes in the three states will be paid. The federal government plans to spend $1.2 billion, said Lauren Wodarski, a spokesperson to U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat.

Though adoption of the plan isn’t certain, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton called it an “important step forward.” She said the bureau will pull back its proposal from last month that could have resulted in sidestepping the existing water priority system to force cuts while it analyzes the three-state plan. The bureau’s earlier proposal, if adopted, could have led to a messy legal battle.

“At least they’re still talking. But money helps you keep talking,” said Terry Fulp, former regional director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Basin region.

The three Lower Basin states are entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet of water altogether from the river. An acre-foot of water is roughly enough to serve two to three U.S. households annually.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.