California water agencies offer Colorado River savings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California water agencies that rely on the parched Colorado River said on Wednesday they could cut their use by a tenth from 2023 in response to calls for federal government cuts.

The agencies, which provide water to farmers and millions of people in Southern California, detailed their proposal in a letter to the US Department of the Interior. It comes as the drought continues to shrink the river and months after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation first called on users to voluntarily limit their dependence on it.

California shares the river’s waters with six other states, tribes and Mexico. It has rights to the largest share and is the last to lose

water in times of scarcity.

The proposal to cut 400,000 acre feet annually marks the first time California water agencies have publicly and formally stated what they are willing to give up since federal officials demanded cuts this summer. California is under pressure from other states to figure out how to consume less as river reservoirs get so low that they risk losing the ability to generate hydroelectric power and supply water.

Half a meter of water is enough to supply about two households with water for a year. California is entitled to 4.4 million acre feet of Colorado River water each year.

“While no broad multi-state agreement has been reached to conserve water in the basin, California agencies are proposing voluntary action now to conserve water in the coming months,” the California agencies wrote.

The letter contained few details. The agencies said they have “a collection of proposed water conservation and water use reduction options” that would help retain more water in Lake Mead, one of the river’s main reservoirs. The letter did not mention specific projects.

The agencies would also expect to pay for the savings with money from the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which included $4 billion in drought relief. The letter does not state any payment percentage that the agencies expect.

Four California water agencies draw water from the river: the Imperial Irrigation District, Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, the Coachella Valley Water District, and the Palo Verde Irrigation District.

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The Irrigation District in California’s Imperial Valley receives a greater portion of the river than any other entity. It is the sole source of water for crops in the southeastern California desert, where many of the country’s winter vegetables, such as broccoli, and forage crops such as alfalfa are grown.

Runoff from the irrigation district also feeds the Salton Sea, a Southern California lake that was created in 1905 when the Colorado River overflowed. The lake was once a destination, but has been drying up in recent decades, exposing residents to harmful dust and harming ecosystems.

“Voluntary water conservation actions outlined in this letter are conditional on a clear federal commitment to make a meaningful contribution to stabilization efforts in the Salton Sea,” the agencies wrote.


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