Nevada, 2 others to sign agreement that will buoy Lake Mead elevation – Las Vegas Review-Journal

Three states and the federal government are expected to sign an agreement Wednesday that will slash water usage from Lake Mead over the next two years, part of an effort to prevent the reservoir from falling to a critically low level.

Nevada, California and Arizona will join the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in signing the so-called “500+ plan,” a new effort to buoy Lake Mead’s elevation by about 16 feet over the next two years.

The lower basin states will pitch in $100 million for the plan and the federal government will commit another $100 million. Individual plans to meet the goal of leaving 500,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead per year in 2022 and 2023 have not been finalized, but Wednesday’s agreement represents a commitment from the lower basin to scale back water usage.

Nevada will contribute $20 million to the plan, but has no additional conservation projects on deck to hit its goal, Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger said.

That’s largely because Nevada has the smallest share of the river, water authority spokesman Bronson Mack said.

“We are continuing to make conservation gains locally, however,” Mack said. Those gains are not going toward the conservation goal set up in the plan, he said.

One acre-foot of water is enough to cover an area about the size of a football field in one foot of water. It is about what two Las Vegas Valley homes use over the course of 16 months.

The agreement comes just months after the federal government declared a water shortage for Lake Mead, a decision that slashes Nevada and Arizona’s allocation of water.

Between that declaration and a 2019 drought response agreement, Nevada’s allocation of water next year will take a 21,000 acre-foot cut.

Before Wednesday’s agreement, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico were scheduled to cut back their water usage by 613,000 acre-feet in 2022, with the bulk of that, 512,000 acre feet, coming from Arizona. The 500+ plan tacks on additional reductions.

The water level projections that led to the shortage declaration on the lake also triggered a provision in the 2019 drought plan that forced the lower basin to discuss ways to prevent Lake Mead from falling below the critical elevation of 1,020 feet. Wednesday’s agreement came from those negotiations.

Lake level is measured in elevation above sea level, not depth. Lake Mead’s elevation on Wednesday was 1,065 feet, leaving the reservoir at 34 percent full.

Addressing conference attendees Wednesday morning, Entsminger did not shy away from confronting the grim reality the Colorado River faces.

“In 2021, water was scarce and pain was plentiful,” he said.

Entsminger called the situation in the Colorado River Basin a sobering moment, and emphasized an “all hands on deck” approach to addressing challenges.

According to water level projections released Wednesday, Arizona and Nevada could face deeper federally mandated cuts as early as 2023.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.