LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The timeline is emerging for upcoming decisions on the Colorado River, revealed in a Thursday news release that summarizes the millions of dollars being spent on conservation and infrastructure projects.
The Biden-Harris administration laid out the timeline for future operating guidelines “to protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River system and strengthen water security in the West.” It shows the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s plan for the next steps in “The Law of the River,” the foundation of decisions that dates back a century to the Colorado River Compact:
- Late 2024: Completed draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), including a public comment period
- Late 2025: Final EIS
- Early 2026: Record of Decision
- 2027: Implementation of the new guidelines
The new guidelines will take effect as the 2007 Interim Guidelines expire at the end of 2026.
The 23-year “megadrought” jump-started the process as Lake Mead dropped to record lows in July 2022 and the Bureau of Reclamation asked states to come up with plans to save 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water each year. An agreement reached in May between the Lower Basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — is currently being analyzed and is expected to save 3 million acre-feet.
An acre-foot is the amount of water to cover one acre in water a foot deep. It’s 325,851 gallons, or about enough water for two to three households for a year.
States have led the way with conservation efforts, and Nevada is not alone in efforts to ensure a reliable supply of drinking water.
The Lower Basin states have taken a big step forward in reducing water use this year. A total of 7.5 million acre-feet is allocated to the Lower Basin, but the states are on pace to use only 5.8 million acre-feet — a savings of about 22%. That water savings can mean less water is released from Hoover Dam, raising the level of Lake Mead.
This happened as an extremely wet winter helped reduce water consumption.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding of $8.3 billion over five years will pay for projects including water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination and dam safety. The Inflation Reduction Act brings an additional $4.6 billion to address the drought and fund water conservation efforts.
The U.S. Interior Department has announced the following projects in the Colorado River Basin states (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming):
- $281 million for 21 water recycling projects that are expected to increase annual water capacity by 127,000 acre-feet annually
- Up to $233 million in water conservation funding for the Gila River Indian Community, including $83 million for a water pipeline project and an additional $50 million from the Inflation Reduction Act through the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program, which will also provide similar investments in 2024 and 2025
- Over $73 million for infrastructure repairs on water delivery systems; $19.3 million in fiscal year 2022 and another $54 million announced in April 2023
- $71 million for 32 drought resiliency projects to expand access to water through groundwater storage, rainwater harvesting, aquifer recharge and water treatment
- $50 million over the next five years to improve key water infrastructure and enhance drought-related data collection across the Upper Colorado River Basin
- $20 million in new small surface and groundwater storage investments
- Eight new System Conservation Implementation Agreements in Arizona that will commit water entities in the Tucson and Phoenix metro areas to conserve up to 140,000-acre feet of water in Lake Mead in 2023, and up to 393,000-acre feet through 2025
“The Colorado River Basin has come together over the past year to create a consensus path in the short term that now allows us to focus on the future,” Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said.
“Today’s next steps for post-2026 planning helps continue the momentum between all stakeholders across the Basin on what the future operations of this critical system will look like,” she said.
“As the range of alternatives is developed, Reclamation is committed to a collaborative, inclusive and transparent process with our partners, stakeholders and the public,” Touton said.