On Monday, California, Arizona, and Nevada reached an agreement to cut back on the amount of water they take from the Colorado River. The plan represents progress in tackling the river’s shortage of water. But stronger cuts will be needed to keep this important river from running dry.
The Colorado River is the main source of water for about 40 million people in the western United States. The river begins in Wyoming and flows through Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California.
Along the way, the river’s water is used for many different purposes. Much of the water is used for farming. There are also several dams that create large reservoirs and use the river’s water to create electricity. The river also supplies drinking water to cities and towns across the US southwest.
The water in the river is divided up among the seven states that use it. The amount of water each state gets is based on agreements that were made in 1922. At that time, people thought the river had more water than it actually did. This meant that the states were promised – and have been taking out – too much water.
Since the early 2000s, the area has also been experiencing an extremely serious and long-lasting drought called a “megadrought”. All of this means that the amount of water in the river has been getting lower and lower.
Last year the water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell ran very low. Those are two of the largest reservoirs on the Colorado River. Experts were worried that there might not be enough water to keep generating electricity. There was even some concern about whether the water could continue to flow.
The US government told the states that they needed to come up with a plan to seriously cut water use on the Colorado. The states argued for months, but couldn’t agree on a plan. Then, the US government threatened that if the states couldn’t reach an agreement by May 30, the government would step in with its own plan.
On Monday, the states agreed on a plan that will cut the amount of water they use by about 13% by 2026. Under the plan, California, which uses the most water, will be responsible for about half of the cuts. The rest will be split between Arizona and Nevada.
The cuts will be split among water suppliers, farmers, cities, and Native American tribes. The US has offered $1.2 billion to help pay the groups that are willing to take the cuts.
The plan, which still has to be approved by the US government, is a big step forward. But it’s not perfect. The Colorado River is still running low. And the cuts agreed to under the new plan are smaller than the US government demanded last year.
To keep water in this important river, the seven states and the US government will have to come up with much more serious cuts that will start in 2026.
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