States Reach Historic Deal to Save Colorado River

California, Arizona, and Nevada will cut back on water to keep it from running dry
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2023 8:40 AM CDT
Western States Work Out Historic Deal on Colorado River
Water from the Colorado River diverted through the Central Arizona Project fills an irrigation canal on Aug. 18, 2022, in Maricopa, Arizona.   (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

States along the Colorado River have finally struck a deal to keep the vital waterway from running dry in the West, reports the New York Times. The shorthand version of the complicated arrangement is that California, Arizona, and Nevada will reduce by 13% the amount of water they pull from the river in exchange for more than $1 billion in federal funding, per the Washington Post. The states reached the deal ahead of a May 30 deadline, at which point the federal government threatened to impose more drastic cuts. The stakes? Without action, the river might well run dry below the Hoover Dam, which could drastically impinge on water for cities such as Los Angeles and Phoenix.

The states have been negotiating unsuccessfully for about a year in what the Times describes as a "state-against-state cage match." The big-picture context here is provided by the Post, which describes the 1,450-mile river that runs from the Rockies to Mexico as a lifeline for the West. The problem is that "climate change has made the region hotter and drier, and exposed how rules made over a century ago to share the river among Western states are inadequate to keep it from drying up," writes Joshua Partlow.

The new rules would apply only through the end of 2026, at which point the states would have to reassess. One factor that helped a deal is this year's above-average snowpack, notes the Denver Post. But water experts interviewed by the newspaper warn that the temporary boost in water and the temporary deal struck by the states do nothing but buy a relatively short amount of extra time before a potentially catastrophic water shortage. "The river is telling us that we haven't done enough," says Jennifer Gimbel, a water policy scholar at Colorado State University. "It's challenging us." (More Colorado River stories.)

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