Water Plan Would Limit California's Portion of the Colorado River

Dec. 28, 2000

Seven Western states have struck a deal to wean California from its dependence on the Colorado River and set aside decades of interstate acrimony over the region's most coveted resource, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico plan to deliver to federal in Washington, D.C., a plan to force extensive water conservation in California and delay by 15 years the date when Las Vegas is expected to exhaust its water supplies.

"For Nevada, it's incredibly important," said Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "It gives Nevada an assured water supply for a long period of time."

The plan gives California a 15-year deadline for conserving water by lining porous irrigation canals with concrete and transferring agricultural water to cities such as San Diego.

California has been consuming water unused by Arizona and Nevada. But those leftovers are increasingly in doubt as the two upstream states increase in population and use more of their allotments. California negotiators insist that the state must have a guaranteed water supply as it slowly lowers its demand to its legally allocated 4.4 million acre-feet.

An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons or enough to serve a family of four or five for a year. Nevada has an annual allocation of 300,000 acre-feet.

The plan ensures California's supply by allowing increased access to the water stored in Lake Mead during the 15-year period established by the seven states. Nevada also would be allowed to tap more lake water. The proposal would allow Lake Mead to drop by as much as 75 feet in a sustained drought, with the shoreline receding by more than 400 feet in some areas.

It contains a clause prohibiting any significant drop in Lake Powell, the river's other major reservoir, that straddles Arizona and Utah and generates millions of recreation dollars for surrounding communities. The draft plan remains subject to environmental review and revisions by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.