Letter to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Offers Actions to Leave Water in Lake Mead Beginning in 2023
SACRAMENTO – California water agencies that rely on Colorado River supplies have stepped up to propose reducing their water usage by up to 400,000 acre-feet each year beginning in 2023 through 2026 to protect storage in Lake Mead and help stabilize the Colorado River reservoir system.
In a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Department of the Interior, four water agencies and the Colorado River Board of California volunteered to conserve water— totaling 1.6 million acre-feet over that four-year period— that otherwise would be used by California communities and farms to help stabilize low reservoirs amid unprecedented drought conditions across the Colorado River basin.
“Given dire drought conditions across the region and dangerously low reservoir levels, we firmly believe that all water users within the Basin must take immediate voluntary actions to stabilize water supplies in the Basin’s major reservoirs,” the letter stated.
The agencies – Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Imperial Irrigation District, Coachella Valley Water District and Palo Verde Irrigation District – said they would need to utilize funding opportunities provided by the federal Inflation Reduction Act and other federal programs to enable this voluntary conservation. They also said the voluntary conservation actions were dependent on a clear federal commitment to contribute to efforts to stabilize the Salton Sea, which is receding due to reduced inflows from existing water conservation actions in Imperial Valley and will further shrink as additional water is conserved in the region.
California has invested billions of dollars in urban and agricultural water conservation across Southern California through programs that reach virtually every Colorado River water user in the state. Since 2003, these conservation efforts have resulted in over 13 million acre-feet of Colorado River water being conserved and transferred to other water users in Southern California.
“California has long been a leader in water conservation within the Colorado River Basin, including through the nation’s largest agricultural to urban water conservation and transfer program, the Quantification Settlement Agreement, and through billions of dollars in investments in agricultural and urban water conservation,” the letter stated. “In fact, through a variety of activities, California’s water agencies have voluntarily conserved nearly 2 million acre-feet of water supplies in Lake Mead since 2007 that has added more than twenty feet to Lake Mead elevations and aided other Lower Basin water users from experiencing previously agreed upon shortage reductions that would have otherwise occurred as early as 2015.”
The letter noted that while a broader multi-state agreement to conserve water has not yet been reached, the California agencies are prepared to take voluntary action now – contingent on federal funding and commitments on the Salton Sea – to conserve water in coming months.
“California water agencies are stepping up in a big way with this proposal,” explained California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot. “Everyone in the basin agrees that extraordinary measures are needed to prevent the system from collapsing. But to date, months of negotiations have yielded no concrete action. Simply put, we can’t wait any longer to act and are therefore stepping up to leave more water in the reservoirs. We hope water users across the basin will follow suit.”
“The effects of climate-driven extremes are being felt across the West,” said California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth. “The time to adapt is now, and California is aggressively moving to transform the way we use and manage water so we can thrive in a hotter, drier future.”
In August, the Newsom Administration outlined actions it will take to help restore, recycle, de-salt and conserve water it will need to keep up with the impacts of climate change. “California’s Water Supply Strategy, Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future” calls for investing in new sources of water supply, accelerating projects and modernizing how the state manages water through new technology.
This year’s state budget includes $3.6 billion over four years for immediate drought support and long-term water resilience, including relief to hard-hit communities, water conservation and environmental protection for fish and wildlife. Including allocations made in the 2021 Budget, a total of $8.7 billion has been dedicated to support drought resilience and response, enabling emergency drought response, improving water conservation to stretch water supplies, and supporting scores of local drought resilience projects.