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Tucson water authorities eye AZ plans as Colorado River agreement moves forward

Arizona, Nevada and California have struck a deal to take less water from the Colorado River in lieu of having mandatory cutbacks imposed by the federal government.

The Associated Press  reportsthat under the proposed agreement, the federal government would pay the three states $1.2 billion to collectively conserve an additional 3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water through 2026, when river's current allocation plan expires.

John Kmiec, director of Tucson Water, says the city has already volunteered to take less than its agreed-upon Colorado River share from the Central Arizona Project through what’s called a compensation system conservation plan. That includes a cut of 50,000 acre feet of water to the city during 2023.

"And then for the following two years, calendar year 24 and 25, each of those years, we can take up to 30,000 acre feet in compensated conservation," he said. 

Kmiec says it’s unclear exactly how the states’ new proposal will impact city conservation plans like Tucson's. But he says voluntary cuts are always better than mandated ones.

He says Tucson uses roughly between 90-100,000 acre feet of water per year and has been banking river water to fill any future gap in supply.

"What we've been able to bank as far as excess CAP water from over the years of purchasing our full allocation is close to six years of current, portable demand in the community," he said. "So, yeah, if the CAP stopped tomorrow, which we don't anticipate it happening, we would still have at at least close to six years of stored water supply."

The states' deal is not yet finalized. 

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.