California Water Agencies Pledge to Reduce Colorado River Water Use

Officials plan on endorsing mandatory conservation and rationing measures to make up for limiting use of a major water source

As the flow of the Colorado River continues to see crisis-level declines in the record-setting drought, California water agencies are pledging to reduce their use of the river’s water by up to 400,000 acre-feet each year, beginning in 2023.

According to The Los Angeles Times, J.B. Jamby, board member of the Imperial Irrigation District, said the reductions “are going to involve serious sacrifice within California, but it’s necessary in order to prevent the system from crashing.” As a result of the pledge, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California officials plan on endorsing mandatory conservation and rationing measures, impacting water supply for 19 million people across six counties. 

Though exact details on reduction methods are still in the works, the pledge follows a number of attempts to enact water-saving efforts. In June, federal officials pushed for an emergency deal to address the river’s dwindling supply and, in December 2021, California, Arizona and Nevada reached another agreement to reduce their usage of the river, the Times reports. In August, meanwhile, Governor Gavin Newsom detailed an increasingly “aggressive” approach to storing and recycling California’s water supply.

Still, as the two largest reservoirs in the river sit nearly three-fourths empty, the possibility of these reservoirs ceasing to flow downstream becomes all the more real.

Flow in the Colorado River has been steadily decreasing since 2000, with a Tier 1 shortage declaration coming earlier this past August. Providing drinking water for more than 40 million people and irrigation for around 5 million acres (while also supporting a $26 billion economy), the river has become emblematic of the human consequence of a drier, climate-impacted future. 

In an interview with The Nature Conservancy last year, Director of TNC’s Colorado River Program Taylor Hawes called the river “a model for resiliency and sustainability but not without concerted and significant effort.” She went on to state, “We must accelerate our efforts and think more broadly and creatively than ever before to chart a sustainable course.”

Meanwhile, California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth echoed the sentiment, stating, “The effects of climate-driven extremes are being felt across the West…The time to adapt is now.”

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