Major conservation milestone: This water plan benefits 40 million Americans – and counting

David Festa

Editor’s note: This post was updated on April 17, 2019.

Here’s something worth celebrating: In a rare bipartisan resolve to prevent a water crisis in the Southwest, Congress has authorized a plan to reduce consumption from the Colorado River – a major conservation milestone.

It shows that when we work together as Americans, we can address some of the biggest challenges facing our nation today. Importantly, this historic deal can serve as a model for other states that are seeking to build resilience to a changing climate.

The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan took years of intense negotiations between states, cities, farmers and Native American tribes – but, amazingly, only six days to clear Congress. President Trump  signed a bill on April 16 that sets the plan in motion.

Water reservoirs falling dangerously low

A 19-year-long drought linked to climate change has caused water levels in Lake Mead, a critical reservoir outside Las Vegas, to drop to its lowest level ever. The reservoir supplies water to California, Arizona and Nevada.

The new drought plan spells out how those three states will share cuts in water consumption to avoid a crisis. Four other states in the upper basin of the Colorado River also agreed to operate their water reservoirs differently. In all, 40 million Americans depend on water from the river.

Under the plan, for example, Arizona would scale back its consumption of Colorado River water by 18% during the first year of a declared shortage. Such a curtailment could come as soon as next year as water levels in Lake Mead continue to sink.

This plan could affect you, too

Think this plan is just for the arid West? I think not.

If we can pull together people of different backgrounds and political persuasions to craft an agreement as complex as the Colorado River plan, it can also serve as a model for states and communities elsewhere.

Climate change impacts that require new solutions for dealing with water – whether flooding or pollution of critical water resources – are issues facing Americans nationwide. Think Louisiana, where a football field worth of land is being swallowed by the ocean every 90 minutes.

We all need to build resilience to the changes coming our way by making some thoughtful – and sometimes tough – decisions.

The good people in seven Western states just showed us how.

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