California water agencies to lessen Colorado River withdrawal

Water conservation to stabilize the Colorado River Basin

Days after the start of a new water year, Colorado River water rights holders in Southern California agree to claim 9% less water.

Under pressure from the federal government, four California water agencies are voluntarily offering to cut back on water imports from the Colorado River starting in 2023. They signed a letter addressed to the U.S. Department of the Interior as well as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

  • Imperial Irrigation District offered to cut 250,000 acre-feet although its offer is contingent on federal funding and voluntary participation of water users who steward nearly a half-million acres of farmland.1
  • The regional wholesaler Metropolitan Water District of Southern California serves 19 million residents in six counties who receive essential water services from local water utilities.
  • Coachella Valley Water District delivers both drinking water and irrigation water; collects and recycles wastewater; replenishes the groundwater basin; and provides regional stormwater protection services.
  • Palo Verde Irrigation District like Imperial Irrigation District serves agricultural lands critical to the food supply chain. According to the USDA NRCS, growers who receive water allocations from the district have been engaging in Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan negotiations with Reclamation to conserve water for Lake Mead, a reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.

Nearly two decades of drought have strained the Colorado River basin. Although California draws more water from the river than other state stakeholders, it has avoided mandatory 2023 curtailments announced for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico due to its senior water rights. California is entitled to 4.4 million acre feet of Colorado River water each year.

1The Associated Press reports, "The proposed cuts are contingent on the water agencies getting money from the $4 billion in drought relief included in the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as a commitment by the federal government to help clean up the Salton Sea, a drying lake fed by diminishing runoff from Imperial Valley farms."

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