Water districts eye Colorado River cuts in 2022

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Two powerful Southern California water districts are actively negotiating an agreement for hefty voluntary cuts of Colorado River supply to farmers and reduced delivery of water to greater Los Angeles, as part of urgent efforts across seven states and Mexico to stave off the collapse of the drought-stricken river system that provides drinking water and irrigation for nearly 40 million people.

Responding to a June mandate from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for all those who rely on the river to cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water usage within 60 days, Imperial Irrigation District and Metropolitan Water District officials are negotiating “around half a million, between 400,000 and 500,000 acre-feet” in combined reductions, IID general manager Enrique Martinez said on Monday.

He emphasized that the negotiations were fluid and numbers could change, but he said his agency, which serves Imperial County and holds by far the largest and among the oldest California rights to Colorado River water, recognizes serious action must be taken to keep water flowing to the region amid prolonged drought and a changing climate. 

“We definitely have a challenge on our hands, and our assumption here is we’re not going to be able to rely on snowpack or rainfall at historic levels” to restore flow naturally, Martinez said. 

The level of Lake Mead, which stores Colorado River water for use by California and other states, has declined precipitously during a 16-year drought in the Colorado River Basin.

“Ultimately, the devil’s in the details, but we think that IID can contribute. … Part of it is self protection — this is our only source of water — but more importantly, we want to make sure our economy is not negatively affected,” he added.  “We basically have to come up with numbers that make a difference, that move the needle in the right direction.”

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