Western States Will Not Lose as Much Colorado River Water in 2024, Despite Long-Term Challenges

Federal officials said Tuesday they will ease water cuts for Western states reliant on the Colorado River in 2024, thanks to a slightly improved outlook, but long-term challenges remain.

The river serves seven U.S. states, 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.

The U.S. government announces water availability for the coming year months in advance so that cities, farmers and others can plan. The first mandatory cuts that magnified the crisis on the river went into effect in 2022, followed by even deeper cuts this year due to drought, poor precipitation and less runoff from the headwaters in the Rocky Mountains.

Conservation measures and a wetter winter have improved the river’s health, leading to cuts being dialed back, starting in January. It won’t lead to dramatic changes because those affected have been living with water cuts for two years — or are voluntarily conserving water.