Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will be required to take less water from the Colorado River for the first time next year under a set of agreements that aim to keep enough water in Lake Mead to reduce the risk of a crash. The federal Bureau of Reclamation activated the mandatory reductions in water deliveries on Thursday when it released projections showing that as of Jan. 1, the level of Lake Mead will sit just below a threshold that triggers the cuts. Arizona and Nevada agreed to leave a portion of their water allotments in the reservoir under a landmark deal with California called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which the states’ representatives signed at Hoover Dam in May.
The water beneath a large swath of Phoenix isn’t fit to drink. A plume of toxic chemicals has tainted the groundwater for decades, and it’s now at the center of a bitter fight over how the aquifer should be cleaned up and what should happen to the water in the future. At issue are questions about why the cleanup has proceeded slowly, which government agency should lead the effort, and whether the polluted water, which isn’t flowing to household faucets, is releasing chemicals into the air at levels that may pose health risks for people in the area.
After months of tense, difficult negotiations, a plan to spread the effects of anticipated cutbacks on the drought-stricken Colorado River is nearing completion. On Monday, representatives of the seven states that rely on the river will gather for a formal signing ceremony at Hoover Dam, the real and symbolic center of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. The plan is a blueprint for shortage sharing built around water levels in Lake Mead, the giant reservoir on the Arizona-Nevada border that has sunk to near-record low levels after two decades of drought.
A bill that would authorize the federal government to enact a drought plan for Colorado River basin states in times of shortage has passed Congress and is on its way to the White House for the president’s signature. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., fast-tracked the measure, clearing a final hurdle for the drought plan, a product of years of long and complicated negotiations that crossed state and party lines. When enacted, the plan will spread the effects of expected cutbacks on the river and protect the levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the river’s two largest reservoirs. Its aim is to protect water users from deep losses and keep the reservoirs and river healthy.
Gov. Doug Ducey has called Arizona’s Colorado River drought plan the most significant piece of water legislation signed in the state in nearly 40 years. The plan was worked out during seven months of negotiations and enables Arizona to join a larger shortage-sharing agreement with California and Nevada that will spread around the burden of expected water cutbacks. Now that all the states have endorsed the agreement, Congress will hold initial hearings on Wednesday and Thursday to consider authorizing the deal.
Representatives of seven states finished a landmark agreement to shore up the dwindling Colorado River and signed a letter to Congress on Tuesday calling for legislation to enact the deal. The set of agreements would prop up water-starved reservoirs that supply cities and farms across the Southwest and would lay the groundwork for larger negotiations to address the river’s chronic overallocation, which has been compounded by years of drought and the worsening effects of climate change.
Proposed water legislation that might have upended Arizona’s Colorado River drought plan was set aside by a leading Republican lawmaker following a day of tense debate. The dispute over the bill pitted House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who introduced the measure on behalf of a group of farmers and ranchers, against the Gila River Indian Community, whose leader threatened to pull out of the drought deal if the bill went forward.
In satellite images, the farm fields in central Arizona stand out like an emerald green quilt draped across the desert landscape. Seeing it from the ground level, the fields of alfalfa, corn and wheat are interspersed with the furrows of freshly plowed fields. After the cotton harvest, stray fluffy bolls lie scattered on the ground like patches of snow. A large share of the water that flows to these fields comes from the Colorado River, and the supply of water is about to decrease dramatically.
Arizona lawmakers passed a historic Colorado River drought deal Thursday afternoon, about seven hours before a midnight deadline set by the federal government. Gov. Doug Ducey promptly signed the legislation, clearing the way for Arizona to join in the three-state Drought Contingency Plan together with California and Nevada. “There’s a lot more work to be done to ensure that Arizona is prepared for a drier water future,” Ducey said as he signed. A crowd of policy advisers and lawmakers applauded in the old state Capitol building. He said the deal represented “the culmination of years of discussions” and called it a “historic bipartisan achievement.”
Arizona lawmakers appear on track to pass a Colorado River drought plan, with less than 30 hours to go before a critical federal deadline. A state Senate committee voted 6-1 Wednesday evening to pass a pair of measures that outline how the state would share looming cutbacks on the river’s water and work with other states to take less. The bills now head to the full Senate and House. Both chambers are expected to pass the bills Thursday, an effort that could stretch into the night as they rush to meet a federal deadline.