US federal bill to reduce Colorado River water consumption for California

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Seven states, including California, have agreed to reduce their water consumption from the Colorado River in an attempt to combat a drought that has affected the region for two decades.

The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act charges the U.S. Secretary of the Interior with getting Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming to agree on the amount by which each state will reduce its water consumption from the Colorado River. Currently, the plan is awaiting approval from President Donald Trump.

“The agreement, as I see it… allows water agencies to plan ahead and more flexibly manage the water supply and this is a good thing,” said UC Berkeley economist and UC Water collaborator Ellen Bruno in an email.

Currently, the allocations of water to each of these seven states is based on a 1922 agreement that locks water allocations to a certain percentage for each state. For the past two decades, however, the region has been suffering from a drought that makes the 1922 agreement no longer viable.

Last year, the Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs reached its lowest level since the 1960s. As of April 10, the Lake Powell reservoir was only about 37 percent full, at 3,569 feet.

According to Bruno, the new agreement will mainly affect Southern California, but will also indirectly affect Northern California.

Campus professor of agricultural and resource economics David Zilberman said in a campus press release that the agreement will have a noticeable impact on farmers, as they will have to pay more for water. According to Zilberman, this plan could push farmers to change how they use their water.

“Farmers will say it’s not great,” Zilberman said in the press release. “But a lot of them use a lot of water. That’s just the reality of adapting to climate change. There are places with more challenging conditions than we have here. In Israel and in Australia, they have much less water than California, and they do well with what they have.”

Zilberman added in the press release that this bill could also force California farmers to grow less rice, a water-intensive crop, recycle water and switch from traditional irrigation to water-saving drip irrigation.

Bruno said in the press release that the new agreement will not come anywhere close to restoring the Colorado River to its original condition. Zilberman added in the press release, however, that he hopes the bill will encourage a technological solution to California’s water problems through improvements in desalination.

“In my view, the state needs to spend money on invention, in this case on better ways for desalinization,” Zilberman said in the press release. “We have all this water around us here. We have to think big, and if we do, if we adapt to the situation, we can solve this with solar power and desalinization.”

Yao Huang is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Yhoneplus.