States Plan Additional Conservation for Lake Mead

The Lower Basin states of the Colorado River watershed — Arizona, California, and Nevada — and their partners in the water-using community signed an agreement Dec. 15 that took a further step to help keep Lake Mead from descending to dangerous levels.

They agreed to a plan that would leave at least 500,000-acre feet of water in the reservoir above their Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) commitments during the next two years.

The document, known as the “500+ Plan,” aims to add at least 500,000 acre-feet of additional water to Lake Mead in both 2022 and 2023 by facilitating actions to conserve water across the Lower Colorado River Basin. The additional water — enough water to serve about 1.5 million households a year — would add about 16 feet to the reservoir’s level, which continues to reach record low levels.

The agreement piggybacks on the Drought Contingency Plan approved by the states in 2019 that was intended to keep enough water in Lake Mead to keep it functional until 2026. The lake’s level is used as a barometer for the health of the system’s water supply and the hydropower supply from Hoover Dam, which serves millions of people in California.

Arizona will not be getting its full allocation of Colorado River water in 2022 under the DCP and the Tier 1 shortage that’s been declared by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation due to the lake’s dropping elevation. Pinal County agricultural users will take the brunt of the cutbacks.

As part of the agreement water agencies in the three states, as well as the reclamation bureau, committed to investing up to $200 million in projects at Lake Mead over the next two years.

Following the signing of a type of agreement known as a “memorandum of understanding,” Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke noted the sense of urgency to get the job done.

“Our work on the 2019 DCP took more than five years to complete. This commitment to work together to stabilize Lake Mead came together in a matter of a few months,” said Buschatzke. “That alone is a powerful testament to the commitment of the Lower Basin States to work together with our partners at Reclamation to protect this vital river system.”