Reflection Canyon, upstream of Lake Powell, in June 2021 shows the “bathtub ring” of rock exposed as lake levels fall to historic lows. A plan by lower Colorado River basin states would save 3 million acre-feet of water by 2026, but experts say a longer-term plan is needed to address the rising demand and ongoing drought that continue to drain the river. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
The Interior Department on Monday said it would review a plan submitted by Arizona, California and Nevada to conserve 3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water over the next three years.
The plan is the states’ answer to a federal call for major reductions in use to keep water stored in Lake Mead and Lake Powell from declining to disastrous levels. The states are seeking federal compensation for users who cut back. On average, each year they would save a little more than a third of what Arizona takes from the river in a normal year.
The proposal is essentially an emergency measure to keep up with a twodecade drought that plunged the two reservoirs to about a quarter of capacity last year, before runoff from this past wet winter that is expected to raise them to about one-third full. The average amount of water conservation envisioned each year — 1 million acrefeet — would be enough to supply
All of the cuts would be voluntary, and most will be compensated with federal funds, according to Arizona officials. Arizona has taken the bulk of current cuts — 592,000 acre-feet, or 21% of its usual delivery — based on shortagesharing guidelines that Interior adopted in 2007 and additional emergency deals. Though it’s as yet unclear precisely how much of the reductions will come from each state, much of the newly proposed cuts could come from California, in recognition of its ability to pull more from its in-state supplies and less from the Colorado after an unusually wet winter.