After five long years of discussion and negotiation, the Colorado River states and the federal government agreed in May 2019 to a Drought Contingency Plan to help protect the river system from the worsening effects of drought and over-use.
On December 15, the Lower Basin States and their partners in the water-using community took a further step to help keep Lake Mead from descending to dangerous levels, agreeing to plan to leave at least 500,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir above their DCP commitments in 2022 and 2023.
And they managed that agreement after less than four months of negotiation.
The agreement, known as the “500+ Plan” aims to add 500,000 acre-feet of additional water to Lake Mead in both 2022 and 2023 by facilitating actions to conserve water across the Lower Colorado River Basin. The additional water – enough water to serve about 1.5 million households a year – would add about 16 feet total to the reservoir’s level, which continues to reach record low levels.
Together, water agencies in California, Nevada and Arizona and the Bureau of Reclamation committed to investing up to $200 million in projects at Lake Mead over the next two years.
Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke noted the remarkable sense of urgency to get the job done among the participants.
“Our work on the 2019 DCP took more than five years to complete. This commitment to work together to stabilize Lake Mead came together in a matter of a few months,” said Director Buschatzke. “That alone is a powerful testament to the commitment of the Lower Basin States to work together with our partners at (the Bureau of) Reclamation to protect this vital river system.”
Under the terms of the MOU signed during the Colorado River Water Users Association’s annual conference, ADWR commited up to $40 million to the initiative over two years, with the Central Arizona Project, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Southern Nevada Water Authority each contributing up to $20 million. The federal government plans to match those commitments, for a total funding pool of $200 million.
Some of the specific conservation actions and programs that will be implemented through the 500+ Plan have already begun, while others are still being identified. The MOU includes conservation efforts in both urban and agricultural communities, such as funding crop fallowing on farms to save water, including the recent approval of a short-term agricultural land fallowing program in California, or urban conservation to reduce diversions from Lake Mead.