Hobbs announces Colorado River deal with Lower Basin governors

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs on Monday announced that she and California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo have reached an agreement to conserve 3 million acre-feet over the next three years to protect the Colorado River system. 

An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water. 

Arizona, California, and Nevada comprise the Lower Basin of the Colorado River. There are four Upper Basin states: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. 

The Lower Basin states submitted their plan to the federal Bureau of Reclamation for approval. 

“We request the Lower Basin Plan be fully analyzed as an action alternative in the Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) Near-Term Colorado River Operations Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS), published last month,” the three governors’ designees wrote to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton. 

The plan’s formation comes after Reclamation in April issued its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which called for a conservation agreement that would “modify guidelines for operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams to address historic drought, historically low reservoirs, and low-runoff conditions in the Basin.” 

Also on Monday, all Seven Basin States sent a letter to Reclamation requesting a pause on the Draft SEIS comment period that is set to conclude on May 30 so that the agency could analyze the Lower Basin alternative. The letter recommends that Reclamation recirculate the Draft SEIS with the “Lower Basin Plan as an action alternative as soon as possible with the goal of reaching a Record of Decision by this fall.” 

In a statement issued Monday, the Department of Interior said it would follow that recommendation and temporarily withdraw the Draft SEIS and reissue a new one. 

“The Lower Basin Plan is the product of months of tireless work by our water managers to develop an agreement that stabilizes the Colorado River system through 2026,” Hobbs said. “Thanks to the partnership of our fellow Basin States and historic investments in drought funding, we now have a path forward to build our reservoirs back up in the near-term. From here, our work must continue to take action and address the long-term issues of climate change and overallocation to ensure we have a sustainable Colorado River for all who rely upon it.” 

Members of the Arizona business community said they were supportive of the announcement from the Lower Basin states. 

“Valley Partnership applauds Gov. Katie Hobbs and her Lower Basin state colleagues for reaching an agreement that will conserve 3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water,” President and CEO Cheryl Lombard said of the real estate development organization. “This is the type of multi-state cooperation the region needs to ensure its continued viability. We encourage the Department of Interior to approve this plan.”

Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry President and CEO Danny Seiden agreed. 

“The longer we went without an agreement among the Lower Basin states, the more likely we would have invited unilateral action by the federal government that could have meant deep cuts,” he said. “We have a long way to go, but by approving this agreement, the Bureau of Reclamation gives states the chance to get started now on a post-2026 plan.” 

For its part, Reclamation indicated it will receive the Lower Basin Plan favorably. 

“I am proud of the Reclamation team’s work and thank our partners across the basin and the Basin states representatives for reaching this moment,” Touton said. “This is an important step forward towards our shared goal of forging a sustainable path for the basin that millions of people call home.”

Craig Ruiz

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