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Biden administration approves interim Colorado River cuts

The Biden administration signaled its approval of interim cuts for Colorado River water use by issuing a final environmental impact statement Tuesday, the Department of Interior announced.

The cuts, agreed upon by all states involved, would see the Lower Basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — reduce water usage by 3 million acre-feet by 2026. The environmental impact statement, over 1,000 pages long, details how changes could further stretch the basin’s water resources.

The goal of the agreement is to prevent water levels from dropping across the basin and particularly in Lake Mead, the reservoir that provides about 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water.

Need for agreement on reductions is underscored by climate change, which is furthering the effects of drought, leaving less water available. A study released last year found that the Colorado River has lost an entire Lake Mead’s worth of water to climate change over the past two decades.

The Lower Basin states’ chief negotiators emphasized the need for consensus among the states in a joint statement.

“The plan for additional near-term water use reductions released today provides the stability we need to fully focus on long-term solutions to challenges ahead on the Colorado River,” they said.

The approval also comes at a time when the Colorado River states are gearing up to meet a federal deadline to update river guidelines for the next 20 years. The last time those were officially updated was 2007.

Going forward, the negotiators said they hope to reach an agreement to update those guidelines — though it’s unlikely the Upper Basin and Lower Basin will do so.

“As we negotiate the next set of guidelines for Colorado River operations after 2026, the success of these water conservation commitments reminds us that only by working together, each making sacrifices, will we see real results,” they said.

A large portion of the funding for these conservation measures comes from the Inflation Reduction Act. In a statement, Congresswoman Dina Titus lauded the act for providing the money needed to see the plan through.

“All Basin states face a pressing need to work together to establish a path forward for water users in the region,” Titus said. “This promoted all Colorado River Basin states to reach a historic, fair-share agreement through 2026 which the Bureau of Reclamation announced today it will soon implement.”

Contact Alan at ahalaly@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlanHalaly on X.

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