New Colorado river water sharing deal : NPR

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The Colorado River in Yuma, Arizona

Kirk Siegler/NPR

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Kirk Siegler/NPR

The Colorado River in Yuma, Arizona

Kirk Siegler/NPR

The White House announced a major agreement with Arizona, California and Nevada to conserve large amounts of water from the drought-stricken Colorado River.

The groundbreaking agreement aims to keep the river, which has been shrinking at an alarming rate due to climate change and overuse, from falling to a level that could endanger water supplies and -energy for major cities in the West and vast tracts of immensely productive agricultural land. .

Water managers in Arizona, California and Nevada agreed on a plan to reduce their water use by more than a third of all traditional Colorado River flow from the seven states that rely on it. The federal government will pay some $1.2 billion dollars to cities, irrigation districts and Native American tribes if they temporarily use less water.

The agreement, which only runs until the end of 2026, amounts to the largest reduction in water use in modern times and is likely to require significant water restrictions for farms and residents across the South West .

Much of this conservation agreement is happening though thanks to a large infusion of federal funds into the region that will do things like pay farmers to grow some of their land. The government is also compensating water districts and tribes to voluntarily withhold some of their legally entitled water in the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, in order to prevent it from drying up.

Kathryn Sorensen, director of research at the Kyle Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, says another big reason the deal came together at the last minute is because much of the West saw record snow last winter.

“The good snowpack bought us the luxury of coming up with a deal that wasn’t quite what the federal government was hoping for but it bought us time,” says Sorensen.

Experts expect that after 2026 a further and much deeper reduction will be required than the one announced on Monday.

The reduction in the agreement is completely voluntary. But it avoids — for now — the federal government stepping in and announcing blanket water cuts across Arizona, Nevada and California.

“This is important because the minute the federal government does this, someone is going to sue,” Sorensen says.

This conservation agreement announced for the first time by the White House comes as California for months had refused to agree to an agreement negotiated with the other states, as large users in the state have the tend to have older water rights on the river.

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