Municipal water suppliers sign landmark CO River System Conservation program

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WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 4, 2014 -- In support of the Colorado River basin states drought contingency planning to address a long-term imbalance on the Colorado River caused by years of drought conditions, municipal water providers in the states of Arizona, California, Nevada, and Colorado as well as the federal government, recently signed a landmark water conservation agreement called the Colorado River System Conservation program.

Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and Southern Nevada Water Authority are partnering with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to contribute $11 million to fund pilot Colorado River water conservation projects. The projects will demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary compensated measures for reducing water demand in a variety of areas, including agricultural, municipal and industrial uses.

For more than a decade, a severe drought -- one of the worst in the last 1,200 years -- has gripped the Colorado River, causing the world's most extensive storage reservoir system to come closer and closer to critically low water levels. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the river represent the world's 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year along with agricultural economic benefits of just under $5 billion annually.

"This situation is becoming increasingly critical. We are already dealing with unprecedented pressure on the southern California region's water system," said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager for The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. "This innovative program is aimed at expanding conservation efforts from a local level to a collaborative system-wide program." Without collaborative action now, water supplies, hydropower production, water quality, agricultural output, and recreation and environmental resources are all at risk in both the upper and lower basins.

Central Arizona Project (CAP) Board President Pam Pickard added, "This agreement represents a unique approach to save water and protect the Colorado River system from the impacts of the ongoing drought and the current imbalance between supplies and demands in the Basin. It is an important milestone in interstate collaboration, with CAP working with partners in California, Nevada, Colorado, and the federal government to improve the health of the Colorado River." All water conserved under this program will stay in the river, helping to boost the declining reservoir levels and benefiting the health of the entire river system.

"Half of Denver's water supply comes from the Colorado River, so we have a direct interest in the health of the entire system," said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO. "This is a proactive contingency plan for drought years to help secure our water supply future with a balanced, economic and environmental approach. This is clearly the right thing to do for our customers, our future water supply and the basin." The Colorado River System Conservation program will provide funding for pilot conservation programs in 2015 and 2016. Successful programs can be expanded or extended to provide even greater protection for the Colorado River system.

In order to ensure that local concerns are addressed and that there is equity and fairness among all parties in the Lower Colorado River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation will manage the conservation actions in Arizona, California and Nevada in a manner consistent with past programs, while in the Upper Basin, the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, as well as the Upper Colorado River Commission, will have a direct role in program efforts.

See also:

"New report recommends effective water solutions in CO River Basin"

"Drought-stricken West exhausting underground water resources, research shows"

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