The Biden administration has released the next steps for its ongoing efforts to protect the Colorado River System, strengthening water security in the western United States.
A revised draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) has been released with two key updates, including an action alternative proposal from the Lower Basin states and improved hydrological data.
The Lower Basin proposal includes cutting water use by 3 million acre-feet through the end of 2026. Based on modeling analyses, the risk of reaching critical water elevations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead has been considerably reduced, with the chance of falling below critical elevations lowered to 8%.
The updated SEIS follows the release of the initial draft SEIS in April 2023, which was temporarily withdrawn to allow for consideration of the new proposal.
“The Colorado River Basin’s reservoirs, including its two largest storage reservoirs Lake Powell and Lake Mead, remain at historically low levels,” said Camille Calimlim Touton, reclamation commissioner. “Today’s advancement protects the system in the near-term while we continue to develop long-term, sustainable plans to combat the climate-driven realities facing the Basin. As we move forward in this process, supported by historic investments from the President’s Investing in America agenda, we are also working to ensure we have long-term tools and strategies in place to help guide the next era of the Colorado River Basin.”
The Inflation Reduction Act has provided funding for protecting the Colorado River Basin, investing a total of $4.6 billion to address the continued drought in the region. Further, the Department of the Interior’s Office of Reclamation, through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is investing an additional $8.3 billion over five years, supporting water infrastructure projects in the region.
Lower Basin Water Conservation Efforts Find Success Amidst Water Shortages
According to the Nature Conservancy, more than 40 million people rely on water from the Colorado River Basin. Temperatures have risen faster in the region than in any other part of the U.S., with some parts of the Basin warming more than double the global average.
A wide range of water conservation tactics have been implemented to achieve this level of restoration, including reduced municipal water use by residents and businesses. In 2022, Scottsdale, Arizona, implemented grass removal rebates and outdoor water efficiency checks, and water recycling and filtration was also able to save the city nearly 5 million gallons of water during the year. Overall, the city reduced its water use by 6% in comparison to its average over the five years before.
The Colorado River Basin experienced a Tier 2 water shortage status in 2022 that especially impacted agricultural operations in the region. According to recent updates from the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Powell has been restored to a Mid-Elevation Release Tier and Lake Mead to a Level 1 Shortage Condition as a result of conservation efforts.