Congress approves Colorado River drought contingency plan

PHOENIX (AP/FOX 10) -- A plan to address a shrinking supply of water on a river that serves 40 million people in the U.S. West is headed to President Donald Trump.

The U.S. House and Senate approved the Colorado River drought contingency plan on Monday.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming spent years negotiating the drought plan. They aim to keep two key reservoirs from falling so low they cannot deliver water or produce hydropower.

"We had to develop this plan to make sure we would have this resource, this important resource for generations to come," said Rep. Greg Stanton (D), who is a co-sponsor of the bill, in a phone interview. "We've had 19 years of drought, and this incredibly important water resource from the Colorado River is not producing the levels of water that it used to. We're growing as a state, so it's very important that we develop a plan, so we can properly allocate this important natural resource."

Mexico has promised to store water in Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border if the U.S. legislation is approved by April 22.

State water managers and federal officials have cited a prolonged drought, climate change and increasing demand for the river's flows as reasons to cut back on water usage. The agreement runs through 2026.

"We have enough water in Arizona for our current needs and for future growth, but we don't have water to waste that's why conservation efforts moving forward are going to be so incredibly important," said Rep. Stanton.

In the lower basin, Arizona and Nevada would keep water in Lake Mead when it falls to certain levels. The cuts eventually would loop in California if Lake Mead's level drops far enough.

The measure approved Monday reflects language proposed by the states but also includes a section that says the implementation of the drought plan won't be exempt from federal environmental laws.

The Imperial Irrigation District in California, which holds the largest entitlement to Colorado River water, and environmental groups had raised concern about draft language they took to mean federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act would be disregarded.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.