Feb 2, 2023 - News

Colorado part of six-state deal, but Colorado River questions remain

Change in water level of <span style="color:#004EA2">Lake Powell</span> and <span style="color:#15A0FF">Lake Mead</span>
Data: Bureau of Reclamation; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

California was the lone holdout on a proposed water-use plan that the other six Colorado River basin states — including Colorado— sent to federal officials this week, Axios Phoenix's Jeremy Duda reports.

Why it matters: As the headwaters state, Colorado relies upon the Colorado River as a key water source.

  • Water levels in the river's main reservoirs, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are at historic lows due to drought.

Driving the news: Tuesday was the deadline for the seven Colorado River basin states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — to agree on how to divide the river's dwindling water supply.

  • The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced last year that it wants to conserve an additional 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water due to the ongoing drought gripping the West.
  • If the affected states can't agree on cuts, the feds are expected to impose their own solution.

Yes, but: The six-state plan may still be influential even without California's involvement.

  • "In the end it will be too difficult for the states to get to agreement and the federal government will act," Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public policy, tells Axios.
  • "But those actions may very well be informed by the recommendations here in this letter."
  • "There probably aren't that many different choices on how to address keeping Lake Mead and Lake Powell from crashing," she adds. "But it all boils down to leaving water in the system that otherwise would come out."

What we're watching: Whether California comes back to the table.

Of note: Recent precipitation may provide short-term drought relief, Axios Denver's Alayna Alvarez reports, but won't reverse the broader trends absent continued rain and snow.

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