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Agreement Reached in Bid to Stabilize Lake Mead Water Levels

Five participants in what is called "a historic effort to help stabilize Lake Mead water levels" signed an agreement this month at a ceremony hosted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources. With the $6 million partnership agreement with the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the state of Arizona, the city of Phoenix, and the Walton Family Foundation, Inc., the Gila River Indian Community will forego delivery of 40,000 acre-feet of its 2017 Colorado River allocation, leaving that water in Lake Mead. The water will be saved in the Colorado River system rather than be tied to any defined use.

"Today's agreement and the community's ongoing effort to protect the Colorado River carry immense importance for our people and our neighbors across the Southwest. Being good stewards of this most sacred resource is a part of who we are as a people and what the Gila River Indian Community has stood for across time," said Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis. "The first positive is that this agreement allows the community to generate income today from water we otherwise would have stored off-reservation to create long-term credits for future marketing. This revenue will help our economy right now, in the present, without sacrificing our future or our water. Second, this agreement helps conserve water in Lake Mead. That conservation effort benefits our people and every resident of Arizona by helping to protect the Colorado River and our water future."

The partner organizations, including the city, view the agreement as a down payment on an Arizona-based plan for protecting the Colorado River system reservoir, where water levels have been dropping rapidly in recent years as a result of extended drought and over-allocation. The plan – known as the "Drought Contingency Plan Plus" – represents an effort on the part of leaders in the Arizona water community to keep Lake Mead above the first shortage trigger for as long as possible.

"This partnership lays the groundwork for a compensated system conservation program in the state of Arizona for the benefit of all Colorado River water users," said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

The state contributed $2 million to the conservation effort, part of a three-year financial commitment totaling $6 million approved this year by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey. The city's mayor and council approved the agreement on June 13 and provided $2 million. "Smart water policy is essential to our economy and to every Arizonan," Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said. "This historic agreement shows how by thinking creatively and working together we can protect our future Colorado River water supply and safeguard against the continued drought and climate change that are directly impacting Lake Mead."

The Bureau of Reclamation contributed $1 million to the Lake Mead stabilization effort and on Jan. 17, 2017, provided $6 million to the Gila River Community for system conservation that resulted in the community's first 40,000 acre-feet stored in Lake Mead. "We are pleased to continue to help our partners in Arizona in their efforts to conserve water in Lake Mead and to implement a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan with California and Nevada," said Terry Fulp, Lower Colorado regional director.

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