States Reach Deal to Help Save Colorado River

May 23, 2023

The states of California, Arizona and Nevada agreed to a “historical” deal Monday to take less water from the overtaxed Colorado River over the next few years.

Each of the three states will reduce their intake from the river by 3 million acre-feet, or 3.7 billion cubic meters, through 2026. That amount equals a 13% cut to each states’ river allotment. 

These three states make up the Lower Basin of the decades-old Colorado River Compact, which assigns water rights. The Upper Basin states in the compact are Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

While the Upper Basin states draw water directly from the river, the Lower Basin states do so through the Lake Mead reservoir created by the Hoover Dam. 

Record-low water levels and a “mega drought” not suffered in a millennium have compelled the states in the compact to come up with strict measures to preserve their water sources.

Monday’s deal was brokered by the Biden Administration. 

“Today’s agreement between the Department of the Interior and seven Colorado River Basin states on a consensus-based approach marks an important step forward in our efforts to protect the stability of the Colorado River System in the face of climate change and historic drought conditions,” President Biden said in a statement.

He added, “This approach will benefit the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River Basin for agriculture, drinking water, and power, and is a critical step to building a sustainable, resilient future for states, Tribes and communities throughout the West.”

The states themselves in their own statement are calling Monday’s agreement a “historical success.”

The deal clears a major hurdle in a three-year plan for distributing water rights beginning in 2024. It likely prevents the federal government from having to impose cuts. 

In their statement, the states say they’re now focusing on “the development of the post-2026 guidelines.”

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