How Much Water is Left in the Colorado River? Scientists and Officials are Scrambling to Find Out

Fresh off a phenomenal winter snowpack, water levels on the Colorado River are going up for the first time in years.

As a result, federal officials will announce this week that they are easing water restrictions in the Southwest starting next year, three sources familiar with the plan told CNN, lifting the region from a Tier 2 water shortage to a Tier 1. It’s a remarkable turnaround that will give back billions of gallons of Colorado River water to millions of people in the Southwest, primarily in Arizona and Nevada.

But they can’t breathe a sigh of relief. Officials, farmers and tribes are bracing for more difficult negotiations on how to divvy up the river when the current interstate agreement expires in 2026.

Colorado River Water Sharing Agreement Likely Dodges Legal Fight

A messy Colorado River legal fight is much less likely in the near term now that the seven river basin states have reached consensus on how to conserve water amid a historic 23-year drought, legal observers say.

The consensus proposal respects water rights by relying mainly on voluntary conservation and “goes a very long way to avoiding what would have been costly and divisive litigation,” said Jay Weiner, of counsel at Rosette LLP, who represents the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe.

Deadline for Colorado River Water Cuts Passes With No Agreement

The decades-old agreements that outline water rights to the Colorado River Basin are leading to an impasse on an issue affecting millions of people in the American Southwest.

On Jan. 31, the seven states that draw water from the basin had to come up with a plan to voluntarily cut back on using water from the basin. Six states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — agreed on one proposal. But California, which is the state the uses the most water, rejected that plan and submitted its own.

East County Water Officials Reach Tentative Agreement With San Diego in Pipeline dispute, Officials Say

Regional leaders have reached a broad agreement to resolve a dispute threatening a massive East County water recycling plant, but many details still need to be worked out.

The conflict between the city of San Diego and the Advanced Water Purification Project emerged publicly earlier this year, just weeks before officials broke ground on the $950 million plant.

We have “operational solutions” that meet both parties’ needs, Jay Goldstone, San Diego’s chief operating officer, said in a recent phone interview.

State, Federal Agencies Announce $200M Investment in Lake Mead

State water agencies in Arizona, California and Nevada announced a $200 million investment in Colorado River conservation projects on Wednesday, in a last-ditch effort to keep the basin’s biggest reservoir from dwindling to dangerously low levels.

The cross-border collaboration, which also includes the Department of the Interior, will aim to add 500,000 acre-feet of additional water to Lake Mead — the Colorado River’s largest reservoir — in 2022 and 2023, by facilitating initiatives that promote water conservation in the Lower Colorado River Basin, according to the partners.

That additional water, which is enough to provide for 1.5 million households each year, would boost the reservoir’s level by 16 feet, a news release from the agencies said.

Environmentalists and Dam Operators, at War for Years, Start Making Peace

The industry that operates America’s hydroelectric dams and several environmental groups announced an unusual agreement Tuesday to work together to get more clean energy from hydropower while reducing the environmental harm from dams, in a sign that the threat of climate change is spurring both sides to rethink their decades-long battle over a large but contentious source of renewable power.