Energy & Environment

California offers to cut back Lake Mead water use amid drought

California is, for the first time in a series of negotiations, offering to cut back its use of water from Lake Mead next year. 

California on Wednesday offered to conserve 400,000 acre-feet, or 130 billion gallons, of water from Lake Mead annually from 2023 through 2026. 

“This water, which would otherwise be used by California’s communities and farms, will meaningfully contribute to stabilizing the Colorado River reservoir system,” state water agencies said in a letter to the federal government.

Both water usage and drought, which has been accelerated by climate change, in the West are contributing to shortages in Lake Mead — a Colorado Reservoir in the southwestern U.S. — leaving the region with a need to conserve water.

Lake Mead provides water from the Colorado River to about 25 million people. The water is used for municipal, industrial and farming purposes. 

The head of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency that’s in charge of the country’s water resources, recently said that the region needs to conserve between 2 and 4 million acre-feet, or at least 651.7 billion gallons, of water in 2023 to protect Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

Experts have described California’s proposal as both an important step, but also not nearly enough to solve the problem. 

“It’s a really good first step and it’s a good sign that things could be moving, but we’re going to need 4, 5, 6, 7 times that amount of water here in the very near future,” said Chris Kuzdas, a senior water program manager with the Environmental Defense Fund. 

Kuzdas said that the additional cuts won’t just need to come from California, though, saying that several parties need to bring down their water use. 

“It’s going to need to come from everyone, certainly more from California, Arizona, Nevada, Upper Basin, Mexico, municipal water users, agricultural water users,” he added. 

Sarah Porter, director of Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy, likewise described California’s offer as “momentum” in the right direction, but also not enough. 

Porter also noted that California’s proposal is based on voluntary conservation, meaning that the cuts it calls for may or may not be met in practice. 

“It’s hard to say just from this letter how real that 400,000 acre-feet is,” Porter said. 

But, she said that it is just a starting point in negotiations, and said the state — and other parties — could bring more significant offers to the table in the near future. 

“You don’t open with your final offer,” she said. 

Tags California Drought Lake Mead
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