US officials to review deal on sharing Colorado River water

US officials to review deal on sharing Colorado River water

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Federal water managers are starting to review a crucial 2007 agreement for seven Western states to share drought-diminished water supplies from the Colorado River ahead of talks about revising and renewing it beginning in 2026, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Friday.

Bernhardt called for a report next December, ahead of a deadline set in the older deal, which established a schedule of strict water cutbacks to states if levels keep falling at the key Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs.

The agreement expires in December 2025, and Bernhardt said the review will provide a foundation for talks about "what's worked and what's not worked."

The review starts at the same time states are enacting a separate drought contingency plan signed last May. It has Arizona and Nevada committed to taking less water from the river in a bid to prop up levels at Lake Mead and avoid more severe cuts in the 2007 guidelines.

Arizona agreed to give up about 7% of its annual allotment, and Nevada about 3%.

California would voluntarily cut water deliveries if reservoir levels keep falling. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and a $5 billion-a-year agricultural industry also have a stake in river water.

"We have the people in place" for the review of the 2007 guidelines, Bernhardt said at the Colorado River Water Users Association annual conference in Las Vegas. "We might as well use that time to build on the success we have here."

Following a relatively wet winter compared with the last 20 years, Lake Mead is now 40% full and Lake Powell upstream is at 53% capacity.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, the top water official in the government, praised enactment of the drought contingency agreement Thursday and pushed for more action so more painful cuts aren't required under the 2007 guidelines.

Bernhardt said the review of the guidelines will include input from federal agencies, Native American tribes, the states, non-government organizations and the public.

"The best way to protect the Colorado River is collaboration and cooperation," Bernhardt said, "not litigation."

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