Inflation/climate bill includes $4 billion for buying water to save the Colorado River Basin |

Inflation/climate bill includes $4 billion for buying water to save the Colorado River Basin

Bennet, other Western senators applaud funds meant to rent, buy or save water to fill the 2 million to 4 million acre-foot gap amid historic drought.

Michael Booth and Chris Outcalt
The Colorado Sun
Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County shows the effect of a water draw down on October 29, 2021. The reservoir has lowered because water from it is being released downstream to increase the volume of water available to downstream users that rely on the Colorado River. Blue Mesa is fed by the Gunnison River, one of the Colorado River's largest tributaries.
Dean Krakel/Special to The Colorado Sun

The climate change and health care bill nearing final approval in Congress includes $4 billion to rent, buy or save water that could go a long way to help restore the beleaguered Colorado River Basin amid a historic megadrought, Senate supporters and water advocates say. 

The money can be used by states and local agencies to temporarily buy farmers’ water rights, fund permanent conservation programs like city lawn buy-ups, or negotiate with tribes to keep their water rights in the basin, said Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who with two other Western senators negotiated to keep the $4 billion alive. 

“The West has not been this dry in 1,200 years, the Colorado River is in crisis as a result, and we don’t have a plan and we need to develop one,” Bennet said in an interview after the weekend’s round of amendments and Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. “I believe very strongly that the federal government has to be there with resources to backstop an agreement.”

Federal water management officials have warned the seven Colorado River Basin states they must cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of consumption immediately, up to 25% of the river’s recent flow. If the states don’t leave more water in the river, plummeting water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead threaten hydroelectric power and even delivery of the water itself to Lower Basin cities if levels drop below the intakes. About 40 million people depend on water from the river.

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