A second straight wet winter may be in store for California, but state water regulators are turning their attention to the prospect of long-term water shortages, with plans for permanent statewide restrictions.
Federal officials this week are expected to ease water cuts for 2024 under a slightly improved outlook for the Colorado River’s health, though long-term challenges remain. The river provides water for seven U.S. states, 29 Native American tribes and two states in Mexico. It also supports a multibillion-dollar farm industry in the West and generates hydropower used across the region. Years of overuse by farms and cities and the effects of drought worsened by climate change has meant much less water flows today through the Colorado River than in previous decades.
In 2021, at a Colorado River conference in Las Vegas, the Southern Nevada Water Authority laid out an ambitious and detailed plan to lower per capita water use through conservation. The presentation quantified why deep municipal conservation — limits on decorative grass, pool sizes, golf courses, septic tanks and landscaping — was necessary to adapt to a far drier future.
An hour east of San Diego, there’s a lonely stretch of dry, barren land. There’s not much here but sand, dirt, and some wiry shrubs.
But keep driving east and the landscape suddenly shifts.
Despite a wet winter, California and other western states will still need to cut back how much water they draw from the Colorado River. The question federal and state officials are weighing is: How much will they each need to cut?
The Biden administration floated two ideas this week to reduce water usage from the dwindling Colorado River, which supplies 40 million people.
The federal government has laid out its ideas for water cuts in the Colorado River Basin, which means time is running out for basin states to agree on a plan of their own.
In Colorado, water officials say the onus is on California and Arizona to make it work.
The seven states most affected by dwindling Colorado River levels are meeting over the next few days to draft proposals for managing the basin’s water levels, potentially preventing the Interior Department from imposing its own water cuts.
The seven Colorado River Basin states — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California — have been sparring over who receives the biggest reductions in allocations after Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton announced a 2019 deal with the states that hinged on them saving 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water, as much as a third of the river’s flows, or the federal government would intervene.
Officials involved in the talks over how to cut Colorado River water use amid a historic drought say they’re optimistic a consensus will be reached by states before a Feb. 1 deadline even though the negotiations are in a delicate place.
If the seven Western states don’t reach consensus, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation will consider mandating water cuts—a move the states are working feverishly to avoid.
As we head into winter, and growing season is over in most of the country, it is California’s Imperial Valley that supplies many of the winter vegetables you count on to keep your family eating healthy. It supplies much of the country’s winter vegetables including lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and other healthy produce. The Imperial Valley also provides a critical food source that consumers never see, but greatly impacts what we eat.