Lower Basin States Closer to Agreement on Colorado River

After a year of contentious negotiations, Western states dependent on the river’s water supply are nearing a deal that would reduce water use significantly over the next three years.

2 minute read

May 22, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

View of Colorado River winding through canyon in red rock cliffs against lightly cloudy blue sky

Birton R. Gilbert / Colorado River

California, Arizona, and Nevada are close to reaching a deal to protect the Colorado River’s threatened water supply. According to an article by Joshua Partlow in The Washington Post, the Lower Basin states have so far been reluctant to submit feedback on the federal government’s proposed alternatives, claiming they can come to an agreement of their own. 

As Partlow explains, “The consensus emerging among these states and the Biden administration aims to conserve about 13 percent of their allocation of river water over the next three years and protect the nation’s largest reservoirs, which provide drinking water and hydropower for tens of millions of people.”

The proposed deal would cut back roughly 3 million acre-feet of water in the next three years in exchange for federal funding from the Inflation Reduction Act. Despite contentious negotiations between California and Arizona, the river’s top users, over the past year, “these states now appear more united than ever and are closing their differences with the federal government, even as significant issues remain unresolved.”

After a historically wet winter, the river’s reservoirs are in less dire condition than they were last year, but officials from Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) want to see more binding commitments to conservation from Lower Basin states. Becky Mitchell, Colorado’s representative in the negotiations, insists that the states need to reevaluate their relationship with the river, saying that “the enemy is not any organization, agency or part of the basin.” Rather, “The enemy is the old way.”

More background on the Colorado River crisis:

Wednesday, May 17, 2023 in The Washington Post

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