U.S. Water News Online
LAS VEGAS -- Seven Western states have signed a sweeping
agreement to conserve and share scarce Colorado River water, ending a
divisive battle among the thirsty rivals.
More than 30 million people in California, Arizona, Nevada,
Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico are affected by the historic
The 20-year plan, which took effect with Interior Secretary Dirk
Kempthorne's signature, resolved several legal disputes among water
agencies and formalized rules to cooperate during the ongoing drought
gripping the region.
A key element of the drought plan lets the lower-basin states of
California, Nevada and Arizona use the vast Lake Mead reservoir
behind Hoover Dam to store water they conserve or don't need for use
For the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, that
arrangement could mean storing almost 1.5 million acre feet of
conserved water in the lake, said Timothy F. Brick, the chief of the
MWD board. The district is the water wholesaler to 26 cities and
water districts serving some 18 million people.
"This landmark new plan will help California recover some of the
water reliability Mother Nature has taken away during the eight years
of record drought," Brick added.
The plan specifies how and when agencies in each state will face
reductions during drought, and set new rules allowing the reservoirs
of lakes Powell and Mead "to rise and fall in tandem, thereby better
sharing the risk of drought," Kempthorne said.
The agreements also establish rules for handling surplus water in
times of plentiful runoff, and they encourage water conservation.
"It's easy to be gracious when you have a surplus," Kempthorne
said. "It is far tougher in a time of scarcity."
Another agreement lets the Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Water
Authority build a reservoir just north of the U.S. border in
California to capture excess water that would otherwise flow into
In return for funding the project, expected to cost more than $175
million, Las Vegas will be allowed to draw up to 400,000 acre feet of
water to slake the thirst of a fast-growing region that has reached
the limit of water it can draw from Lake Mead.
Officials say an acre-foot, or about 326,000 gallons, is about
enough water to supply two southern Nevada homes for a year.
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