The Colorado River’s ongoing drought is posing a serious threat to crucial water supplies and hydropower-generated electricity in the region.
On Monday, the Biden administration made an important announcement, revealing that seven western states have come to an agreement to safeguard essential water supplies from the Colorado River system amidst the extreme drought.
The Department of the Interior (DOI), in collaboration with the states, has played a key role in addressing the water shortages. The agreement aims to conserve a minimum of 3 million acre-feet (maf) or 978 billion gallons of Colorado River water supplies by 2027 in the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. Additionally, by 2025, the strategy aims to conserve at least half of that amount.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland emphasized the significance of the Colorado River Basin, stating, “There are 40 million people, seven states, and 30 tribal nations who rely on the Colorado River Basin for basic services such as drinking water and electricity.”
Haaland further expressed that the announcement reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to collaborating with states, tribes, and communities in the Western region to find consensus-based solutions in the face of climate change and prolonged drought.
According to the DOI, the Inflation Reduction Act, a climate and tax legislation passed last year, will provide funding for the conservation of 2.3 million acre-feet of water. The remaining 0.70 maf will be achieved through voluntary reductions made by the Lower Basin states, without compensation.
The Lower Basin states primarily rely on water from Lake Powell, located on the Utah-Arizona border, and Lake Mead, situated along the Nevada-Arizona border. Meanwhile, the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming depend on smaller rivers connected to the Colorado River.
The regulation of water release into the Lower Basin states is managed by the federally controlled Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona and the Hoover Dam in southern Nevada.
However, due to several decades of drought, both Lake Powell and Lake Mead have experienced significant declines, approaching critical levels known as dead pool levels. These levels indicate that water cannot flow from the reservoir through its dam, thereby jeopardizing vital water supplies and hydropower-generated electricity for millions of Americans.
Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau commended the seven Basin states for their leadership and united effort in developing this consensus-based approach to ensure substantial water conservation until 2026.
As part of the agreement, the Department of the Interior withdrew a proposed conservation plan for the Colorado River, while committing to moving forward with conservation recommendations for 2027 and beyond, as requested by the states comprising the Colorado River Basin.
The federal government’s latest reports indicate that Lake Powell’s water level is approximately 3,520 feet, while Lake Mead stands at 1,046 feet. Projections suggest that both reservoirs may reach dead pool levels at 3,370 feet and 895 feet, respectively, if the situation persists.