Lake Mead to Receive $200M Investment in Face of Western US Drought Concerns

by Jennifer Shea
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Arizona, California and Nevada are investing in the Colorado River. They’re funneling $200 million through their state water agencies to add an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water to Lake Mead in 2022 and 2023.

The plan is to fund initiatives that promote water conservation throughout the Lower Colorado River Basin. Of course, whether those initiatives will deliver remains to be seen.

The multi-state push is an effort to keep the Colorado River’s biggest reservoir from drying out and reaching dangerously low levels, The Hill reports. The extra water is supposed to raise the reservoir’s water level by 16 feet. That would provide enough water for 1.5 million households per year.

“Two decades of drought on the Colorado River is taking a toll across the Basin and on Lake Mead,” U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said in a press release. “By working together we’ve staved off these historic low levels for years, thanks to collaboration and conservation in the Lower Basin. But we need even more action. And we need it now.”

The 500+ Plan Would Finance Conservation Programs Targeting Lake Mead

The Bureau of Reclamation, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Central Arizona Project (CAP), the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Southern Nevada Water Authority all hammered out an agreement recently. Their representatives met up at the Colorado River Water Users Association’s yearly conference in Las Vegas.

The agreement, dubbed the 500+ Plan, calls for the partners to pool their contributions. The Department of the Interior has pledged to match those contributions. In total, the agencies would shell out $200 million for conservation initiatives.

Specifically, the initiatives would include paying for crop fallowing to preserve water. They would also include city conservation efforts that would cut back on diversions from Lake Mead.

The 500+ Plan is the successor to the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) of 2019. The agreement between Arizona, California and Nevada stipulated that each would add water to Lake Mead if it dropped below certain levels.

“We had hoped the contributions made under the DCP would be enough to stabilize Lake Mead while we seek longer-term solutions to the challenges on the Colorado River,” Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil told The Hill. “But they aren’t, which is why we are moving forward with the 500+ Plan.”

500+ Plan Came Together Quickly

The DCP was the fruit of more than five years of negotiations. The 500+ Plan, by contrast, was agreed to in a matter of months.

“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,” Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said.

That’s also a testament to the daunting conservation challenges that have mounted over recent months. But the partners said those challenges only strengthened their resolve to cooperate quickly.