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This past Sunday, in overtime hours ahead of adjourning for their August recess, the U.S. Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). It invests $370 billion into clean energy and curbing climate change, the largest U.S. investment ever in U.S. history.

The provisions included in the bill could cut carbon emissions by 40 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. This is still short of the 50 percent President Joe Biden had originally aimed for, but it goes a long way toward meeting a goal that has been seen as out-of-reach for the past year.

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

Here in the West, legislators finally took a deep breath and exhaled, as the bill includes major climate funding for the Bureau of Reclamation to address the impacts of drought on the Colorado River Basin.

“The Colorado River Basin is the lifeblood of the American Southwest, it provides the drinking water for 40 million people across seven states and 30 tribes, it irrigates five million acres of agricultural land, it underpins the West’s $26 billion outdoor recreation economy, and it is running out of water,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet during a June 7 hearing for the Senate’s Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources subcommittee.

That reality has now received official acknowledgment. Three U.S. Senators, Bennet (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Mark Kelly, (D-Ariz.), announced the agreement that could mean billions of dollars allocated toward “voluntary” system conservation projects.

The Colorado River is considered the lifeblood of seven southwestern states. Image courtesy of The Guardian

According to the text of the bill, those projects include achieving verifiable reductions in demand for water supplies or water use, while providing environmental benefits in the Lower Basin or Upper Basin of the Colorado River, over the next few years.

Since the Upper Basin has already been achieving usage reductions, a lot of the onus for reducing demand will need to come from the Lower Basin states, which have been over-allocating out of the two Colorado River reservoirs above them: Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“The Great Transition is here! This bill is the most comprehensive clean energy initiative we’ve ever seen,” said U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper. “We’ll reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by the end of the decade. We’ll save Colorado families hundreds of dollars on their energy bills and health care costs. All while reducing the deficit. America will help lead the planet into a clean energy economy.”

The announcement comes amid one of the hottest summers on record for the Colorado River, and as the West is officially in what is called a “mega-drought.”

A sharp photo of a nook of Lake Powell showing the reservoir depletion. It is fed by the Colorado River. MU

According to official measurements of river temperatures, Colorado River temperatures hit 75 degrees Fahrenheit near Dotsero in July. Temperatures this high, at this elevation are already stressful for fish and have been known to cause fish die-offs.

The July measurements were five degrees higher than temperatures that are considered safe for fishing. To avoid fish stress there was a voluntary, full-day fishing restriction placed on the river across Eagle County, keeping fishermen, both locals, and tourists, out of the river.

Further downstream at Lakes Powell and Lake Mead, the reservoir levels have dropped so low from usage by the Lower Basins, that the two major hydroelectric dams they power are in danger of not having enough water to generate electricity for some 40 million people. The investment in climate change could not have come too soon, and no one yet knows if it is too late.