Most of Colorado River Water Goes to Growers
Las Vegas was a blip on the population charts when seven Western states began divvying up the riches of the Colorado River.
The Colorado River Compact was crafted in 1922 when agriculture dominated politics and the economy, and this tiny rail stop had 4,859 residents.
The compact allocated 15 million acre-feet of water annually to the seven states. California won the lion’s share, 4.4 million acre-feet, followed by Colorado with 3.9 million, Arizona 2.8 million, Utah 1.7 million, Wyoming 1 million, New Mexico 850,000 and Nevada 300,000 acre-feet.
An acre-foot, 325,851 gallons, is enough to serve a family of five for one year.
The Colorado River is the nation’s sixth-largest in terms of water volume at 17.5 million acre-feet per year. The river basin covers 224,000 square miles in the seven states, with about 30 million people dependent on the river’s water, most of them in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Denver, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
The Colorado River Aqueduct, completed in 1941, delivers water from the river to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which distributes water to 27 water districts covering 300 communities and 16 million people.
The $3-billion Central Arizona Project provides Colorado River water to Phoenix, Tucson and thousands of Arizona farmers.
Despite the major population centers, the vast majority of the river allocations feed an insatiable agricultural thirst.
About 85% of the Colorado allocations go to agricultural use, said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, an umbrella organization made up of water districts in the Las Vegas Valley.