Three states agree to new Colorado River water deal

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Three Southwest states 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 California, Arizona and Nevada agrees to cut at least three-million-acre-feet of water through 2026, around 10% of the three states’ Colorado River allocation, water that would otherwise be used to irrigate farms, generate hydropower or feed municipal drinking water systems.

Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute, joined us to discuss more about what this agreement means.

The reason this is such a huge deal is because California, Arizona and Nevada, along with the rest of the states in the Colorado Basin, agree and support this analysis. To even reach this agreement and hopefully work toward more of a finalized goal is a huge achievement, Porter said.

What Could this Deal Mean?

“If the modeling goes forward and everything goes as anticipated, it would call for using significant federal funding that’s already put aside to compensate Colorado River water users to leave up to, maybe even more, three million acre feet of water in Lake Mead over the next three years,” Porter said.

This is on top of shortages that states have previously agreed to in other deals/agreements, according to Porter. For example, Arizona will be leaving over 500,000 acre feet of water in Lake Mead due to a voluntary cut.

As of now, this cut in this deal is most likely to be only for the next three years.

“It will probably mostly be temporary conservation, not permanent reductions in use, but we’re working our way up to new operational guidelines for the whole Colorado system. We have a deadline of 2026 to reach those new guidelines. So we can anticipate that these ongoing problems of over-allocation and climate change impacts will be dealt with in that 2026 agreement,” Porter said.

The big thing this agreement does is provide encouragement for people to keep negotiating on the long term goals, according to Porter.

Sarah Porter, Director of Kyl Center for Water Policy

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