Arizona, California and Nevada Commit to Record-Setting Conservation to Protect the Colorado River

October 19, 2023

Contact: Jessica Neuwerth – 818-254-3200 jneuwerth@crb.ca.gov

Arizona, California and Nevada commit to record-setting

conservation to protect the Colorado River

Record-setting volumes of Colorado River water are being saved in Lake Mead

The Bureau of Reclamation is moving the process forward to develop new operating guidelines for the Colorado River that will be in effect after 2026. Simultaneously, states, tribes and water users across the Colorado River Basin continue to collaborate on a long-term sustainable plan for the stability of the river.

To that end, the Lower Colorado River Basin states – water users in Arizona, California and Nevada – are contributing record volumes of water to Lake Mead. By the end of 2023, cumulatively, the Lower Basin will have voluntarily conserved more than 1 million acre-feet – water that is being held back in Lake Mead for the benefit of the entire system over and above shortage reductions agreed to in 2007 and those of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan.

In 2023, consumptive use in the Lower Basin States is expected to be around 5.8 million acre-feet, the lowest consumptive use since 1984.

Arizona

Arizona users are conserving nearly 345,000 acre-feet of water in 2023 through the Central Arizona Water Conservation District/Arizona Department of Water Resources ICS Preservation program as well as federally funded CAP subcontractor, tribal contractor and on-river conservation agreements. This is in addition to the 592,000 acre-foot Tier 2a shortage reduction taken by Arizona.

“Arizona is conserving more water than ever to stabilize the Colorado River Basin and protect our collective water future,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

“The commitment of our state’s tribes, cities, industries and agricultural districts to Colorado River conservation efforts is substantial, and builds upon Arizona’s long history of water conservation in support of a robust economy. I’m confident we will continue this tradition well into the future as we all adapt to a changing Colorado River.”

California

Colorado River water deliveries to California in 2023 are on track to be the lowest since 1949 – 700,000 acre-feet lower than the state’s 4.4 million acre-foot apportionment. In urban Southern California, Colorado River use this year is projected to be the third lowest in 60 years, thanks in part to recent broad efforts to reduce outdoor water use on grass. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation prohibiting the use of potable water to irrigate grass that serves no functional purpose at businesses and other institutions.

“Twenty years ago this year, California permanently reduced its Colorado River water use by 800,000 acre-feet overnight — enough to serve 2.4 million households every year. This year, in addition to that unparalleled and ongoing effort, we’ve cut our use even further thanks to investments in conservation and partnerships forged between our agricultural, urban, and tribal water users,” said JB Hamby, California’s Colorado River Commissioner and Chairman of the Colorado River Board of California. “California is committed to leading with our water users, Basin States, and Basin Tribes to ensure sustainability on the Colorado River now and into the future.”

Nevada

Nevada implemented a series of new water efficiency measures to further enhance the community’s progressive and comprehensive conservation program, which has reduced Nevada’s consumption of Colorado River by 41 percent since 2002. The new water efficiency measures include pool size limits, state laws requiring decorative grass replacement, prohibitions on new evaporative cooling, and innovative tools to align economic development opportunities with water efficiency.

“With a population of 2.3 million residents, Southern Nevada will use less than 200,000 acre-feet this year – our lowest annual water use since 1993 when our population was about 900,000 people,” said John Entsminger, SNWA General Manager. “As a river community, we can all maintain diverse, robust economies while using less water, and the reductions in municipal and agricultural water use across the Lower Basin demonstrates that.”

Arizona, California, and Nevada water users continue to conserve and leave roughly 3 million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead by the end of 2026, ensuring Colorado River system stability. Collectively, ongoing commitments may exceed the volumes in the Lower Basin consensus proposal offered to the federal government earlier this year as part of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement process to revise the 2007 Interim Guidelines that operate the Colorado River system.

These contributions provide much-needed stability through 2026 while new operating guidelines are being developed for the Colorado River system.

[Download copy in PDF by clicking here]

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California Backs Consensus Plan to Bolster the Colorado River

May 22, 2023

Contact: Lisa Lien-Mager — 916-407-6279 Lisa.Lien-Mager@resources.ca.gov

Jessica Neuwerth — 818-254-3200 jneuwerth@crb.ca.gov

California Backs Consensus Plan to Bolster the Colorado River

GLENDALE, CA — Colorado River Board of California Chairman JB Hamby issued the following statement regarding the Lower Basin Plan submitted by the representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada to the Bureau of Reclamation that will conserve three million acre-feet of Colorado River water through 2026.

“California worked hard with our Basin States partners to achieve consensus among all seven states to protect the Colorado River system for the duration of the current guidelines,” said Hamby, who also serves as California’s Colorado River Commissioner.

A letter from all seven Colorado River Basin states requested that Reclamation analyze the Lower Basin Plan as an action alternative under the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS), provide sufficient time to fully analyze the plan consistent with applicable law, and allow for an appropriate public comment period. The Draft SEIS evaluates potential near-term modifications to the 2007 Interim Shortage Guidelines that govern the operation of the Colorado River’s major dams and reservoirs through 2026.

Hamby added, “California and our partners in Arizona and Nevada have developed a plan that results in better protection for the Colorado River system than other action alternatives identified in the current Draft SEIS released last month by Reclamation. The Lower Basin Plan will generate unprecedented volumes of conservation that will build elevation in Lake Mead, make strategic use of the improved hydrology, and build upon partnerships within and among states, urban water agencies, agricultural irrigation districts, and Basin Tribes who rely upon and share the Colorado River.”

In recent months, California’s Colorado River contractors and entitlement holders have closely collaborated with the Bureau of Reclamation to develop agreements that will conserve up to 1.6 million acre-feet of water through 2026 for the benefit of the Colorado River System as part of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program, funded through the Inflation Reduction Act, and through an existing Intentionally Created Surplus extraordinary conservation water storage program. Each of California’s Colorado River contractors and entitlement holders, including The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Imperial Irrigation District, Palo Verde Irrigation District, Coachella Valley Water District, Bard Water District, and the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, will conserve water to remain in the Colorado River system as part of the plan. (More on the next page.)

“California’s water users will work quickly to implement conservation that will protect the system in the near term. At the same time, California will work to address the systemic challenges facing the Colorado River and will begin collaborating with the Basin States, Basin Tribes, and the Bureau of Reclamation to develop sustainable guidelines for the long-term management of the river,” said Hamby.

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For the past 85 years the Colorado River Board of California’s mission has been to protect the interests and rights of the State of California, its agencies and citizens, in the water and power resources of the Colorado River System.

The Colorado River Board represents the State of California and its Members in discussions and negotiations with the Colorado River Basin States, federal, state and local governmental agencies and Mexico regarding the management of the Colorado River.

California Responds to Reclamation’s Draft SEIS

April 11, 2023

Contact: Lisa Lien-Mager — 916-407-6279 Lisa.Lien-Mager@resources.ca.gov

Jessica Neuwerth — 818-254-3200 jneuwerth@crb.ca.gov

California Responds to

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Draft SEIS

BOULDER CITY, NV — Colorado River Board of California Chairman JB Hamby issued the following statement on the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) released today by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The draft SEIS evaluates potential modifications to the 2007 Interim Shortage Guidelines that govern operation of the Colorado River’s major dams and reservoirs.

“California remains committed to developing a seven-state consensus that will protect the Colorado River system for the duration of the current guidelines,” said Hamby, who also serves as California’s Colorado River Commissioner. He added that, “California looks forward to closely coordinating and collaborating with our partners in the other Basin States, Basin Tribes, and Reclamation to review the draft SEIS in full.”

In January, California submitted a modeling proposal as part of the SEIS process that built on voluntary agreements and past collaborative efforts to address reduced inflows and declining reservoir elevations and achieve necessary water use reductions through 2026 to protect critical infrastructure and minimize implementation delays.

Since the January submission, California’s Colorado River water contractors and entitlement holders have closely collaborated with the Bureau of Reclamation to initiate efforts to develop agreements and conserve up to 400,000 acre-feet of water per year through 2026 for the benefit of the Colorado River System as part of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program, funded through the Inflation Reduction Act.

On April 6, Arizona and Nevada joined California in a joint response letter to Reclamation providing input on the voluntary Program’s longer-term durable system efficiency improvements project funding component by recommending measures including turf removal, local supply and augmentation projects, agricultural efficiency improvements, conveyance modernization and automation, as well as storage projects to achieve verifiable reductions in the use of or demand for water supplies.

“California is committed to working with the Colorado River Basin States, Basin Tribes, and the Bureau of Reclamation to ensure that funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and recent improvements to the basin’s hydrology are used strategically to develop consensus for near-term stable operation of the Colorado River system, and to pivot to developing sustainable guidelines for the long-term management of the river,” said Hamby.

May 30 is the deadline for comments on the draft SEIS.

# # #

For the past 85 years the Colorado River Board of California’s mission has been to protect the interests and rights of the State of California, its agencies and citizens, in the water and power resources of the Colorado River System.

The Colorado River Board represents the State of California and its Members in discussions and negotiations with the Colorado River Basin States, federal, state and local governmental agencies and Mexico regarding the management of the Colorado River.

California Water Agencies Submit Colorado River Modeling Framework to Bureau of Reclamation

January 31, 2023

Proposal Outlines Constructive Approach to Achieve Necessary Water Use Reductions through 2026 to Protect Critical Infrastructure, Prioritize Public Health and Safety

California water agencies that rely on the Colorado River today proposed a modeling framework for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to evaluate as it considers actions to help stabilize reservoir elevations and protect critical infrastructure to ensure the Colorado River system can continue to support 40 million people, nearly 6 million acres of agriculture, and Tribes across seven states and portions of Mexico.

The modeling framework outlines a constructive approach to achieve additional water use reductions while protecting infrastructure, prioritizing public health and safety, and upholding the existing body of laws, compacts, decrees, and agreements that govern Colorado River operations (known collectively as the Law of the River). The approach builds on the California agencies’ commitments announced last fall to voluntarily conserve an additional 400,000 acre-feet of water each year through 2026 to protect storage in Lake Mead and help stabilize the Colorado River reservoir system.

California’s proposed framework seeks to protect Lake Mead elevation of 1,000 feet and Lake Powell elevation of 3,500 feet by modifying some parameters governing reservoir operations, maximizing the impact of existing plans and voluntary conservation actions, and increasing cutbacks if Lake Mead elevations decline. It also protects baseline water needs of communities across the West by prioritizing water supplies for human health and safety. The proposal was carefully developed to enable workable phased water use reductions and ensures protection of adequate water volumes in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

“The alternative provides a realistic and implementable framework to address reduced inflows and declining reservoir elevations by building on voluntary agreements and past collaborative efforts in order to minimize implementation delays. California’s alternative protects critical elevations and uses adaptive management to protect critical reservoir elevations through the interim period,” JB Hamby, chair of Colorado River Board of California and California’s Colorado River Commissioner, wrote in a transmittal letter to Reclamation.

The approach differs from a modeling proposal submitted to Reclamation on January 30 by the six other basin states. The six-state proposal would direct the majority of water use reductions needed in the Lower Basin to California water users through a new apportionment method based on “system and evaporative losses.” The proposal directly conflicts with the existing Law of the River and the current water rights system and mandates cutback without providing tools to manage reductions.

For the past several months, California water users have sought a timely, practical and implementable solution with other Lower Basin users that can be implemented over the next three years to protect critical elevations in Lake Mead while longer-term changes are negotiated to update 2007 Interim Guidelines that will expire at the end of 2026. Suggestions to fundamentally change the Law of River are appropriately addressed through this shared process to update the guidelines.

California’s water agencies remain committed to working with all Colorado River basin states to take urgent, fair, and achievable action now to avoid unacceptable risks to communities, farms and economies in California and the rest of the basin.

For decades, California has been a leader in managing its Colorado River water resources and collaborating in basin-wide efforts to more effectively operate and manage the reservoir system and to incentivize water conservation as demands have increased in the face of shrinking supplies due to climate change.

In 2003, California permanently reduced its use of Colorado River water from about 5.2 million acre-feet annually to its basic apportionment of 4.4 million acre-feet, a permanent annual reduction in water use of about 800,000 acre-feet. The reduction in use resulted from implementing a combination of agricultural and urban conservation activities. Since 2003, water users in California have taken significant actions to conserve Colorado River water, adding over 1.5 million acre-feet and 20 feet of elevation of conserved water to Lake Mead since 2007. California water users committed to further conservation to bolster storage in Lake Mead through the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. California has invested billions of dollars in urban and agricultural conservation across Southern California, through programs that reach virtually every Colorado River water user in the state.

“Twenty years ago, California adopted the largest water conservation-and-transfer agreement in U.S. history that not only supports the bulk of our nation’s food system but also sustains the environment. This multi-billion-dollar conservation-focused framework – the Quantification Settlement Agreement – is the blueprint for other states to follow. California has done its part and is willing to do more, but it’s time for the other states to step up and create their own conservation programs that sustain the quality of life in their communities,” said Jim Madaffer, vice chair of the Colorado River Board of California, representing the San Diego County Water Authority.

“For over 20 years, Metropolitan has met the challenge of reducing our use of Colorado River water, and we are committed to doing more now. But we must do it in a way that does not harm half of the people who rely on the river – the 19 million people of Southern California. We must do it in a way that does not devastate our $1.6 trillion economy, an economic engine for the entire United States. We must do it in a way that can be quickly implemented, adding water to lakes Mead and Powell without getting mired in lengthy legal battles. We must do it in a way that maintains and strengthens partnerships on the river, allowing us to work together to build longer term solutions. The proposal presented today by California does all of this by equitably sharing the risk among Basin states without adversely affecting any one agency or state. The plan presented yesterday, which shut out California, does not. California knows how to permanently reduce use of the river – we have done it over the past 20 years, through billions of dollars in investments and hard-earned partnerships. We can help the entire Southwest do it again as we move forward,” said Adel Hagekhalil, general manager, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“The Colorado River – Imperial Valley’s only source of water – supports far more than our rural disadvantaged community as it provides for a robust agricultural industry that feeds millions of people and provides food security for this nation. California, and particularly the Imperial Irrigation District, is working to be part of the solution, however we also believe in upholding the Law of the River and not shouldering the burden of supply limitations for states and agencies that have outgrown their water rights. California has spent the past two decades successfully working together to resolve intra-state supply and demand imbalances to sustain the Colorado River. Since the signing of the Quantification Settlement Agreement, the largest ag-to-urban water conservation and transfer agreement in U.S. history, IID’s water management programs have generated over 7.2 million acre-feet in support of the Colorado River system. Today, IID and its California partners have proposed a balanced and implementable plan that begins to address the monumental challenges we face with the ongoing Colorado River drought,” said Henry Martinez, general manager, Imperial Irrigation District.

“Historically, CVWD and our agricultural community have invested heavily in its irrigation delivery system to minimize water loss, including canal lining projects, a closed pipe irrigation distribution system and installing drip irrigation. We have prioritized the efficient use of Colorado River water over the long term. We also took action last year with other California agencies to voluntarily identify a collection of Colorado River water conservation and reduction actions to save 400,000 acre-feet annually through 2026. We support our California partners and are committed to reaching a 7-basin state consensus on a framework for additional water use reductions through 2026,” said Jim Barrett, general manager, Coachella Valley Water District.

“One-hundred and forty-six years ago, the original developers of our Palo Verde Valley filed and were granted the very first water rights to Colorado River water. Secured by those rights, farmers and farm workers have invested multiple generations of farm loans and hard work to produce food and fiber for consumers. Surrounding our agriculture are small rural cities that depend exclusively upon Colorado River water for their domestic supply. Farmers and landowners in Palo Verde Irrigation District want to be part of a solution to the current mismatch of supply and demand on the River in a manner that honors existing Public Law, and Administrative Law,” said Bart Fisher, president, Palo Verde Irrigation District Board of Trustees.

“The Colorado River has been the lifeblood of the Quechan people since time immemorial, and we have a deep and abiding responsibility to be good stewards of the River – for the Tribe and its members, for the species and ecosystems that it sustains, and for the benefit of our fellow tribes and non-Indian neighbors throughout the Basin. It is why we have always fought for and will continue to defend our water. The modeling proposal submitted by the State of California to the Bureau of Reclamation for inclusion as part of its development of the SEIS reflects a meaningful effort to address the hydrologic challenges facing the Basin while respecting the senior water rights of the Tribe and others and ensuring that the Colorado can continue to exist as a living river,” said Quechan Tribal Council President Jordan Joaquin.

Colorado River Board Elects New Officers

At its January 11th meeting, the Colorado River Board of California elected JB Hamby, representing Imperial Irrigation District, to serve as Board Chairman and Jim Madaffer, representing San Diego County Water Authority, to serve as Board Vice Chairman. As Chairman, Hamby serves as California’s Colorado River Commissioner.
“This is a historic time of reckoning on the Colorado River where growing demand over the decades exceeds a shrinking supply due to chronic drought and aridification,” Hamby said. “Protecting California’s stake on the Colorado River is vital to our future in Southern California. I look forward to working closely with the board’s member agencies — both agricultural and urban — to develop solutions that respect the Law of the River for the benefit of all Californians.”
Board members also congratulated outgoing Chairman Peter Nelson and Vice Chairman David Pettijohn on their tenure and service to the Board and the State of California.