The seven states served by the Colorado River agreed with federal officials last week on new rules for how to manage the river’s all-important water in times of drought. The agreement stipulates through 2026 what water levels must be maintained in the region’s two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, triggering conservation measures when levels dip below the line. Water in the U.S. West has been an exceedingly controversial issue for decades but its importance has only increased as the region continues to endure a record eight-year drought and most climate-change forecasts predict an even worse situation for future water supplies. The new agreement also lets the Las Vegas area use more Colorado River water in exchange for financing a reservoir project in California that would capture some of the river’s water destined for Mexico for use in the state. Many environmentalists are skeptical of the overall river plan. “There is more water on paper than there actually is on the landscape,” said John Weisheit of green group Living Rivers. “They are looking at this in a way that will allow more development even though the water is not theoretically there.”

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