LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) – A historic agreement is reshaping the future of the Colorado River. Water in Lake Mead will rise at least 10 feet after water districts representing California farmers and other major water users in the state agreed to significant cuts in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government.

“Less than a year ago, the Colorado River was in a very different place than we are today,” contended J.B. Hamby, Colorado River Commissioner for California. Lake Mead is up a whopping 40 feet from what was projected last year.

“Lake Mead is really doing what it is intended to do. That is store water in the wet years so that it is available in the dry years,” explained Bronson Mack, Outreach Manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. However, decades of prolonged drought along Colorado river persist.

“The future of the river is going to be less water; therefore, we need to make sure all states that share the Colorado River and those in Mexico are all contributing to water conservation,” Mack asserted.

Wednesday, major users of Colorado River water convened at Paris Las Vegas.

“The states were at odds. Even this January, it was the six other Colorado River Basin states versus California and within the span of a few months of time, we were able to bridge divides,” Hamby shared at the meeting.

The Biden Administration says it is making the largest climate investment in history. As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, the federal government will pay $295 million dollars to water districts mostly in California and tribes to use less water, a lot less.

“The amount of water that California water users have committed to conserving through these agreements, it is more than three times what we use in a year,” Mack stated. All that unused water will stay in Lake Mead.

“That is going to help keep water levels higher, approximately 10 feet or more going forward,” Mack reported. While Arizona, California, and Nevada are all using less water today than two decades ago, Nevada has been a leader in conservation. Why aren’t we getting financial rewarded?

“Nevada has opted not to accept federal dollars for the conservation efforts that we have been doing because accepting those dollars means that water that has been conserved isn’t available in the future,” Mack revealed.

Here is more information on the agreements shared by the Department of the Interior after they were reached:

The Biden-Harris administration today announced agreements with several California water agencies to conserve up to 643,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead through 2025. The agreements include approximately $295 million in new investments from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, a key pillar of Bidenomics, which will fund projects for water conservation, water efficiency, and protection of critical environmental resources in the Colorado River System.

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton joined federal, Tribal and state leaders in Nevada today to announce the execution of new water conservation agreements, including an agreement with the Coachella Valley Water District to save up to 105,000 acre-feet of water through 2025 and an agreement with the Quechan Indian Tribe to save up to 39,000 acre-feet through 2025. The event also commemorated a recently signed agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District to conserve approximately 100,000 acre-feet of water in 2023. The leaders also announced that additional system conservation agreements with the Palo Verde Irrigation District, Bard Water District – in cooperation with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California – and a second agreement with the Coachella Valley Water District are expected to be finalized in the coming weeks.

The investments are part of the Biden-Harris administration’s all-of-government approach to improve and protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River System now and into the future. They are administered through the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program and funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in history.

“Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the Interior Department is working collaboratively with states, Tribes, farmers, and water districts across the West to help address, improve and protect the long-term stability of the Colorado River System,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “The Biden-Harris administration is using every tool and resource at our disposal to continue our sustained, collaborative progress in increasing water conservation across the West.”

“These agreements represent another critical step in our collective efforts to address the water management challenges the Colorado River Basin faces due to drought and climate change,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Addressing the drought crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, and close collaboration among federal, state, Tribal and local communities. When we work together, we can find solutions to meet the challenges of these unprecedented drought conditions.”

President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is integral to these efforts to increase near-term water conservation, build long term system efficiency, and prevent the Colorado River System’s reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production.

Conservation efforts made possible by this funding have already benefited the system this year. The California conservation agreements announced today join 18 water conservation implementation agreements with critical partners in Arizona, including state agencies, Tribes, and agricultural and municipal water users, which commits water entities to conserve up to 348,680-acre feet of water in Lake Mead in 2023, and up to 984,429-acre feet through 2026. The agreements are part of the 3 million acre-feet of system conservation commitments made by the Lower Basin states, 2.3 million acre-feet of which will be compensated through funding from the Inflation Reduction Act.

As a result of the commitment to record volumes of conservation in the Basin, as well as recent hydrology, the Interior Department announced in October 2023 that the chance of falling below critical elevations has been reduced to eight percent at Lake Powell and four percent at Lake Mead through 2026. Lake Mead is currently about 40 feet higher than it was projected to be at this time last year.

To date, the Department has announced the following investments for Colorado River Basin states through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, which will yield hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water savings each year once these projects are complete:

  • $281 million for 21 water recycling projects that are expected to increase annual water capacity by 127,000 acre-feet annually;
  • Up to $233 million in water conservation funding for the Gila River Indian Community, including $83 million for a water pipeline project;
  • Over $73 million for infrastructure repairs on water delivery systems; $19.3 million in fiscal year 2022 and another $54 million announced in April 2023;
  • $71 million for 32 drought resiliency projects to expand access to water through groundwater storage, rainwater harvesting, aquifer recharge and water treatment;
  • $50 million over the next five years to improve key water infrastructure and enhance drought-related data collection across the Upper Colorado River Basin; and
  • $20 million in new small surface and groundwater storage.

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