News Feature | April 22, 2019

Trump Approves Colorado River Drought Plan

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Some of the American West’s most critical sources for drinking water have received new government protection.

“President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed a plan to cut back on the use of water from the Colorado River, which serves 40 million people in the U.S. West,” The Denver Channel reported. “The Colorado River drought contingency plan aims to keep two key reservoirs, Lakes Powell and Mead, from falling so low they cannot deliver water.”

The details of the plan were negotiated for years among the seven states that depend on these reservoirs: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. As populations grow and the climate changes, persistent drought has been common in the region.

“State water managers and federal officials have cited a prolonged drought, climate change and increased demand for the river’s flows as reasons to cut back on water usage,” per ABC News. “In the lower basin, Arizona and Nevada would keep water in Lake Mead when it falls to certain levels. The cuts eventually would loop in California if Lake Mead’s level drops far enough.”

Because the plan received Trump’s approval by a late April deadline, Mexico is expected to store water in Lake Mead at the Arizona-Nevada border as well.

“The legislation was supported by all 14 senators from the Colorado River basin states, though Trump announced his action in a tweet that singled out Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally, who is in a tough fight for re-election next year,” according to The Denver Channel.

Per the plan, Arizona has the lowest-priority access to Colorado River water and has negotiated a separate agreement for access to other sources and new groundwater infrastructure.

In California, the Metropolitan Water District will be bearing the brunt of California’s cutbacks if and when they are deemed necessary. The state’s Imperial Irrigation District, which has the largest claim to water from the Colorado River, is not participating in the plan and has attempted to block it entirely.

“The Imperial Irrigation District in southeast California filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking a state court to block the plan until more analysis is done on the accord’s environmental impacts,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “The filing is the district’s latest attempt to put the brakes on the drought pact until the federal government provides $200 million for restoration of the shrinking Salton Sea.”

But with approval already secured from Congress and the president, the plan only needs signatures from the Interior Department and the seven states involved in the pact to go into effect. At the time of this writing, that final approval appears to be imminent.

“The drought plan calls for cutbacks through 2026,” per The Denver Channel. “The states are scheduled to begin negotiations soon over even more severe cuts to deal with a long-term shortage in water on the Colorado River.”

To read more about how regulators deal with dwindling source water supplies, visit Water Online’s Source Water Scarcity Solutions Center.