LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) – Just one day after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced the final deals needed for its current water conservation plan, Nevada, California, and Arizona proposed new water-saving strategies for the future.

The strategy is notable because, for the first time ever, it addresses a key cause of water loss: evaporation.

It’s estimated the Colorado loses ten percent of its streamflow every year to evaporation. That’s around 1.3 million acre-feet or enough water to fill Allegiant Stadium 21-thousands times! Past conservation plans haven’t accounted for evaporation, despite its obvious impact on the river.

A new proposal put forward by Nevada, California, and Arizona does. It calls for further conservation in the Lower Basin to make up for all the water that literally disappears into the air. That means further cuts in usage will need to be made.

“Locally here in Las Vegas, we’ll be asked to contribute 50-thousand acre-feet which is well within our ability to contribute. But our partners in Arizona, California, and Mexico will be contributing the lion’s share to those reductions,” John Entsminger, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s general manager. “We know that we’re not going to get the same amount of water that we got in the 20th century, so for this river to continue to be the lifeblood of 40 million Americans, everybody in the seven states and two countries has to contribute to solving that problem.”

Some water policy experts have been calling for officials to factor in evaporation for years. When asked why it didn’t happen sooner, Entsminger told FOX5 water management is an ever-evolving process.

“It’s adaptive management, throughout time the states have come to the table and tried to adapt to the facts in front of us. Now we find ourselves in 2024 knowing that additional reductions need to be made, so we’re coming up with a plan to do that.”

Also in the new multi-state proposal, a plan that shifts the burden of water releases away from Lake Mead and Lake Powell during lean times, and distributes them among the seven reservoirs along the Colorado River. This would prevent the lakes from reaching the sort of critical levels witnessed in 2022. Lake Mead hit its lowest point in July of 2022 when it sunk to just 1,041.71 feet. The lake hasn’t seen its maximum capacity of 1,220 since July of 1983.

You can tell what kind of winters you’ve been having by how much water you have in storage, and right now all of the reservoirs along the Colorado River in aggregate are less than 50 percent full so that reflects the fact that we’re living in an era of drought, aridity, and climate change,” says Entsminger.

The new proposal will be submitted to the Bureau of Reclamation to factor it into the post-2026 water management plan.

“All of the agreements that the seven states have negotiated over the past 20 years expire at the end of 2026, so there’s a need to negotiate new operating guidelines after 2026.”

It’s estimated the Colorado River has lost some 9.3 trillion gallons of water since the western drought started in 2000. That’s the equivalent of all the water Lake Mead holds when it’s full. Experts say it will take decades of sequential wet winters to restore the river. Since that cannot be guaranteed, conservation measures are essential for the Colorado to continue to serve the 40 million people who rely on it for not only water but for electricity as well.


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