New Partners Paving Way for Further Contributions to Lake Mead and Lake Powell

Lake Mead and Lake Powell – considered barometers for the health of the Colorado River Basin – will likely see increased contributions in 2018 thanks to a new amendment to the 2014 Pilot System Conservation Program (PSCP) agreement. 

The Central Arizona Project (CAP) board authorized the amendment at its January meeting, paving the way for broader participation by new partners.

What is the significance? For starters, more partners means more money to compensate those who leave water in the lakes, making a shortage declaration less likely in the next two years. And that’s good news for the residents and economy of all Colorado River Basin states. 

The PSCP, which includes voluntary, compensated conservation projects across the Basin, has been enormously successful. Participants contribute financial resources into a funding pool and select conservation projects through a competitive process. Through 2017, about $21 million has been expended for conservation projects that have left more than 120,000 acre feet in Lake Mead. 

Original contributors included the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, CAP, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), Southern Nevada Water Authority and Denver Water. As the program has grown in popularity, other parties have expressed interest in joining the program, including municipal water providers and philanthropic foundations. The Walton Family Foundation has provided funding through Denver Water and California Six Agency has provided funding through MWD. Although they have contributed money, they have not had a say in which proposals were accepted. 

Las Vegas Bay and Boulder Beach Area

The agreement recently approved by the CAP board provides a path for these and other Third-Party Contributors to become equal partners as long as they commit to providing at least $1 million/year – the same as the other non-federal funders. 

The PSCP has funded several projects in Arizona including Bullhead City, the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Gila River Indian Community, the Colorado River Indian Tribes and 11 central Arizona irrigation districts. The most recent project in Bullhead City, compensated the city for recharging treated effluent that otherwise would have been lost to evaporation. This may contribute 8,800 acre-feet of water to the Colorado River water system over the next four years and possibly beyond. 2018 will include new, similar projects in both the upper and lower Basin, encouraging additional conservation and thus more water left in the lakes. 

CAP and its partners have been making a noticeable difference by reducing demand (conservation), increasing supply (augmentation) and implementing system efficiencies. Efforts like these have contributed nearly 20 feet to the elevation of Lake Mead, keeping the system out of shortage for the past three, going on four, years.

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