Arizona water given to California, Nevada reach landmark deal on water cuts to stave off crisis on Colorado River

Three Southwest states, including Arizona, announced Monday they have struck a historic deal to cut millions of gallons of Colorado River water usage over the next four years, about half of which would be completed by next year, in an effort to stave off a crisis at the nation’s largest reservoirs.

The deal between Arizona, California, and Nevada agrees to starve ranchers and farmers by cutting at least 3 million acre-feet of water through 2026 – around 10% of the state’s Colorado River allocation – water that would otherwise be used to irrigate farms, generate hydropower or feed municipal drinking water systems. About 1.5 million acre-feet of that water is set to be cut by the end of 2024. Most of the cuts would be compensated with at least $1 billion in federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act.

“The Lower Basin Plan is the product of months of tireless work by our water managers to develop an agreement that stabilizes the Colorado River system through 2026,” said Katie Hobbs. “Thanks to the partnership of our fellow Basin States and historic investments in drought funding, we now have a path forward to build our reservoirs back up in the near term. From here, our work must continue to take action and address the long-term issues of climate change and overallocation to ensure we have a sustainable Colorado River for all who rely upon it.”

The plan still must be finalized after a federal environmental review, which the Department of Interior said on Monday it would begin. The four states that make up the river’s Upper Basin – Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico – said they supported reviewing the new plan.

The deal marks a major step after months of tense negotiations to save a crashing Colorado River system, which provides water to more than 40 million people in the West. That system has shown alarming water loss in recent years after a multiyear, climate change-fueled drought collided with decades of overuse.

pouring water on person's hands by mrjn Photography is licensed under Unsplash
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