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Multi-agency agreement outlines best practices and water-saving actions to protect water supplies

The new normal of hotter, drier weather and drought in the West has reduced the flow of the mighty Colorado River that serves 40 million Americans.

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

Recognizing that a reliable water supply is critical to all economies and communities relying on the drought-stricken Colorado River, this week more than 30 water agencies and providers committed to taking additional actions to reduce water demands and helping protect the Colorado River system.

Notably, those representing the lower basin states (that over the past decades have demonstrated over-use, while upper basin states have for years implemented usage conservation steps) are now also committing to conservation steps.

On Wednesday, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was delivered to the Bureau of Conservation State Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, municipal and public water providers in the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin. It affirmed their commitment to implementing comprehensive and innovative water conservation efforts. The community programs, initiatives, policies, and actions include:

  • Expanding water efficiency programs for indoor and outdoor water use.
  • Implementing programs and policies reducing and replacing non-functional, decorative grass by 30 percent while protecting urban landscapes and tree canopies.
  • Increasing water reuse and recycling programs where feasible.
  • Implementing water efficiency strategies and best practices, such as water loss controls, conservation-based rate structures, industrial and commercial conservation, land use coordination and other suitable conservation strategies within each community.

Today’s announcement builds upon an initial MOU executed in August 2022 between Aurora Water, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Pueblo Water and Southern Nevada Water Authority. It significantly expands participation and commitments from water providers across the Basin to implement best practices to conserve and enhance water efficiency.

“As we consider the long-term aridification of the Colorado River Basin, the math is simple: water uses exceed water supplies,” said Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger. “But solving that equation will require all Colorado River water users across every sector to make hard decisions and be fully invested in water conservation if we are going to bring our shared river system into balance.”

The Colorado River Basin. Image courtesy of Mission 2012: Clean Water

“This problem is of the highest magnitude, but collectively we have the resources to find the solution,” said Brenda Burman, Executive Strategy Advisor of Central Arizona Project. “The path forward will require all Colorado River water users to contribute, and Central Arizona Project continues to make investments and commitments to support the Basin to reach a sustainable water future.”

“The significance of nearly 30 municipal and industrial providers of Colorado River water signing on to this agreement is truly historic,” said Gene Shawcroft, General Manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. “The commitments of municipal and industrial water agencies in both the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins toward a unified approach to problem-solving is critical in light of the current drought conditions and historic low reservoir elevations confronting the basin. I hope this agreement will provide an example of effective Basin-wide collaboration on the many Colorado River issues we face now and into the future.”

“Forging a sustainable future for the Colorado River will take a commitment from all of us to use less water. More than two dozen water agencies from cities across the Southwest have made this commitment on behalf of the millions of people they serve,” said Adel Hagekhalil, General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This MOU is a key step towards bringing the River into balance, and powerful proof that working together, we can build solutions.”

Under the MOU, each participating water provider will implement the conservation actions, programs, and/or policies most appropriate for its individual communities and water efficiency goals. While these water agencies primarily represent urban water uses, which is only a small fraction of the Colorado River’s total water consumption, the conservation strategies outlined will help reduce demands and protect water levels in lakes Powell and Mead.

“A sustainable, long-term plan for the Colorado River Basin requires all water users to reduce water demand commensurate with what the Colorado River can realistically supply given the new normal of hotter, drier weather,” said President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency Ron Burke. “To this end, the Alliance for Water Efficiency commends the commitments from local water providers to expand water efficiency and conservation programs.”

In a joint letter of support, seven environmental, conservation, and non-governmental organizations called the MOU “an important step in the right direction,” further stating that “achieving these commitments is a necessary first phase to preserve the longevity of the Basin.”

Progress is slow — but it needs to proceed faster than the reduced flow of the Colorado River.