The Colorado River Basin is a hugely valuable water source in the US, stretching almost 1,500 miles through the Grand Canyon and providing water for more than 40 million people across seven states and parts of Mexico, as well as supporting crop irrigation and hydroelectric power.
However, the river has been shrinking for decades as a result of serious drought in the west of the country, with a report published last year in the Nature journal revealing that 2000 to 2021 was the driest 12 months for south-western North America in at least 1,200 years, the BBC reports.
In order to help tackle the problem, three states – Arizona, California and Nevada – have now struck an agreement to draw less water from the river in exchange for $1.2 billion in federal funding, with the aim being to conserve at least three million acre-feet by the end of 2026.
A single acre-foot of water is sufficient to provide both power and water to between two and three households in the US for 12 months. All seven states that draw water from the river (including New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming) have given their support to this new plan.
Arizona is set to make 55 per cent of the water cuts, while California will make 30 per cent and Nevada six per cent, according to an Arizona Department of Water Resources representative in an interview with CBS News.
The plan does still need to be approved by the federal government’s Department of the Interior, with a review due to be held from as early as this month (June). The Biden administration had previously suggested that unilateral water cuts would be imposed if the three states failed to reach an agreement between themselves.
As welcome as this news may well be, experts have issued a warning that this hard-fought agreement is only a temporary solution to the long-term water crisis that the western US is facing.
According to the Guardian, Katherine Jacobs – an expert in water and climate adaptation at the University of Arizona – believes this new deal to be a “Band-Aid solution for a short-term fix”. She explained that, while it is indeed better than nothing, it’s simply delaying the need for more drastic action required in order to resolve the problem/
Her warning came as Lake Mead – the biggest reservoir in the US and which collects water behind the Hoover dam – hit record low levels of 1,040ft. If levels fall much further, the lake will not be able to generate the hydroelectric power relied upon by millions of people.
Furthermore, if it falls to 895ft or lower, no water would be able to pass through the dam at all, which would result in a dead pool situation and cut water flow to Nevada, Arizona and California.
And with climate change and global warming exacerbating the situation, scientists are now warning that river flow will be under increasing pressure, with more water evaporating and the Rocky Mountain snowpack shrinking and, thus, failing to feed the river at its point of origin.