This Monday, the states of California, Arizona, and Nevada, along with the US federal administration, reached a multilateral compromise on the use of Colorado River water. This agreement comes in the context of a “mega-drought” that has affected the region for two decades and whose effects persist despite this year’s abundant rainfall.
The commitment involves a 13% reduction in total water use in the lower basin by agricultural operators, industries, native tribes, and urban utilities. Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs has stressed that this plan is the result of months of hard work by water managers to stabilize the Colorado River system through 2026. While this historic reduction will likely result in significant water restrictions for residents and farmland in the region, it avoids jeopardizing both the availability of water resources and the power supply from two dams.
Without this agreement, it was feared that water levels in Lakes Mead and Powell would drop to the point where hydroelectric turbines would stop operating, jeopardizing the power supply for millions of people. Both reservoirs reached dangerously low levels last summer, prompting the Biden Administration to consider water cutbacks in the seven states that rely on the Colorado River.
It is estimated that more than 40 million people depend on the water provided by the river along its 2,300-kilometer length, which allows cultivation on vast agricultural lands in desert environments.
While experts, such as Sharon Megdal of the University of Arizona, welcome this agreement, they warn of the urgent need to find a long-term solution. Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, has also pointed out that the announced measure is not a final agreement but a proposal. However, the plan is expected to conserve 3.7 billion cubic meters of water over the next three years, with at least half of that volume by the end of 2024.