PHOENIX — Arizona, California, and Nevada have agreed to further reduce their usage of Colorado River water over the next two years as the states figure out ways to prevent critically low water levels in Lake Mead.
The river accounts for 40% of Arizona's water supply.
The states were already preparing for mandatory water cuts in 2022 resulting from the Tier 1 shortage federal declaration.
During the summer of 2021, the lake which is a reservoir for the state's allotment of Colorado River water fell to 1,067.65 feet, the lowest level in its history. That decline triggered emergency measures that were put in place in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan which was negotiated by the seven states that have allotments from the river.
The new agreement, called the 500 Plus Plan was reached in December and has a goal of leaving an additional 1 million acre-foot of water in the lake over the next two years. 500,000 in 2022 and 500,000 in 2023. It is enough water to supply 1.5 million households each year.
The plan is to achieve conservation by incentivizing cities, tribes, farmers, and other CAP users to voluntarily reduce water usage. Farmers for example would be paid to keep some of their lands fallow.
"They're being paid basically to reduce their water use and that will be left behind in Lake Mead," said Ted Cooke, General Manager of Central Arizona Project, the agency that facilitates the delivery of Colorado River water to Central and Southern Arizona.
The program is expected to cost $200 million dollars. $100 million will come from federal funding, $40 million from the Arizona Department of Water Resources, $20 million from Central Arizona Water Conservation District, $20 million from Nevada, and $20 million from California.
Cooke said Arizona has a strong interest in preventing additional cuts.
"Arizona will be impacted the most severely if the lake continues to decline," Cooke said.
Because of its junior priority status, when cuts are implemented Arizona's share is slashed the most.
The hope is that these voluntary cuts will prevent even more mandatory reductions to keep Lake Mead above dangerously low levels.
"If we have to do another round, God forbid, but we might, then we will be going back to those same people asking, Can you do something more?" Cooke said.