New Biden administration agreements with a number of water agencies in California would conserve up to 643,000 acre-ft of water in Lake Mead through 2025. These include $295 million in compensation for longer term investments in Colorado River water conservation projects.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Coachella Valley Water District agreed to save as much as 105,000 acre-ft of water and the Quechan Indian Tribe agreed to save up to 39,000 acre-ft, both through 2025. Negotiations for additional agreements with the Palo Verde Irrigation District and the Bard Water District, in cooperation with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, are in progress.

The investments, funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, will be administered through the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program. The federal agency said Dec. 13 that the goal is to “increase near-term water conservation, build long-term system efficiency, and prevent the Colorado River System’s reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production.”

The agreements are part of commitments made in the Lower Colorado River Basin states of California, Arizona, and Nevada to conserve 3 million acre-feet of water and “bridge the immediate need while moving toward improved system efficiency and more durable long-term solutions,” according to the program’s web page. 

Such efforts are significantly reducing the chance that Lake Mead will drop below critical elevations in the near term. The surface level is currently about 40 ft higher than it was projected to be at this time last year.

Coachella Valley Water District agreed to curtail replenishment at the Thomas E. Levy Groundwater Replenishment Facility, said spokeswoman Lorraine Garcia. “It’s a way to temporarily leave water in [Lake Mead],” she said. “It doesn’t really affect any of our customers.”

The three-year agreement involves compensation of $400 per acre-ft. If the district hits the target of conserving 35,000 acre-ft per year, that will total $42 million for it to invest in a variety of yet-to-be-determined construction projects, said Garcia. “We know the importance of making our contribution to save Colorado River water and water in Lake Mead, especially given that it’s been in drought for 20 years,” she said. “Doing this is temporary, so in the meantime, we’re working to create other conservation programs and encourage our customers to reduce water use, because conservation is one of the most important things we can do to reduce demand.”

Garcia said the district has applied for the second phase of the conservation program, which will fund proposals for long-term system efficiency improvements geared to multi-year efforts. The Bureau of Reclamation has yet to announce projects that will be funded. 

Outside of its initiatives with the conservation program, Coachella Valley Water District is working on non-potable water pipeline expansion projects to deliver approximately 5,200 acre-ft annually for landscape irrigation.

“We are working on a few projects addressing our long-term water management goals,” said Garcia. “These include increasing the supply of recycled water and source substitution, and water efficiency across all customer sectors as we adapt to a hotter, drier future.”