Last month, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, a plan that was years in the making, was approved by Congress and signed by the President. The Colorado River serves 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
The Colorado River carries melted snow from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California. The water is doled out through interstate agreements, international treaties and court rulings to help power major desert cities, millions of people, and more.
The drought contingency plan is a crucial pact in keeping Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border and Lake Powell upstream on the Arizona-Utah border from reaching levels that would have significant impacts.
Most of the states that utilize Colorado River water, including Colorado, had already signed off on state plans to address impacts of a prolonged drought, climate change and increased demands, but California had two water agencies fighting over the language and commitments outlined in the plan.
Colorado has historically not used its full allocation of water, nor have the other upper basin states of New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. For these states, the drought plan is less focused on large-scale, voluntary cuts than preventing Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoirs from falling so low that they cannot deliver water or produce hydropower.