Print Friendly, PDF & Email

On Monday, the seven Colorado River Basin states agreed to the submission of a Lower Basin proposal for analysis under the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). The proposal from California, Arizona, and Nevada commits to measures to conserve at least 3 million-acre-feet (maf) of system water through the end of 2026, when the current operating guidelines are set to expire.

How to apportion the water from the Colorado River has been contentious for years, with the Upper Basin states of (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah) saying they are conserving more than their share and pointing out that the lower basin states have been using more than their fair share. In, fact California uses half of the lower basin share of water.

States that divide the flow of the Colorado River. Image courtesy of Mission 20212 Clean Water.

“As the Colorado River Basin states continue to negotiate, it is my hope that any agreement includes durable, verifiable, and enforceable commitments to conserve water,” wrote Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “We were fortunate to experience heavy snowfall this winter but we are not out of the woods from the megadrought in the American West. I welcome the analysis of a third alternative as part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement but I urge the Department of Interior to prioritize long-term water conservation opportunities.”

The Colorado River. Image courtesy of The Guardian

Colorado U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper weighed in, calling it “A step towards aligning Colorado River water use with the reality of our decreasing flows is a hopeful step towards avoiding catastrophe. We look forward to seeing Reclamation’s analysis of the Lower Basin’s proposal, with hopes this provides a path to a seven-state agreement.”

Of those system conservation savings, 2.3 maf will be compensated through funding from the Inflation Reduction Act. The remaining system conservation needed for a sustainable operation would be achieved through voluntary, uncompensated reductions by the Lower Basin states.