Following about 20 years of drought and shrinkage in available Colorado River water resources, negotiators for seven Western states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) and federal authorities agreed March 19 to a new sharing plan including voluntary conservation measures. The “drought contingency” plan adjusts a 1922 law that defines the sharing of the Colorado River for each state.
Reservoirs along the river are currently less than half full despite recent positive changes in snow and rainfall. In fact, water level in Lake Powell is 43 feet lower than this time last year. Lake Mead, the main reservoir on the river, is expected to be only 6 feet above federal shortfall levels by year end. Federal scientists project that “reservoir operators within five years will not be able to deliver water as usual to downriver cities including Phoenix, Los Angeles, Tucson and San Diego,” (Denver Post}. Under the agreement, states would voluntarily give up water to keep Lake Mead and Lake Powell from crashing.
The federal government has been pressing the states for over two years to draft the plan as a temporary measure to bring the river usage into a more sustainable regime. All seven states have created individual plans that now are melded, and the plan will be reviewed in Congress towards the end March.