March 27, 2019

Cortez Masto Highlights Urgency in Implementing Drought Contingency Plan for Colorado River

Washington, D.C. – At today’s hearing for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, Ranking Member Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) questioned her guest, Mr. John Entsminger, the General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, on the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) for the Colorado River to highlight the need for its immediate implementation to address water security concerns for Nevada.

“Mr. Entsminger, let me ask you this, is Southern Nevada prepared to deal with the additional reductions that are required under the DCP?” asked Cortez Masto.

“Yes, we are prepared,” Entsminger replied. “We have reduced our overall use by about a third through our conservation measures, and we currently have eight years of our total demands embanked in reserves. So we’re in a very strong position, not only to help the rest of the river but to protect ourselves as well.”

Cortez Masto continued, “And can you address why it is important to implement the DCP as soon as possible?”

Entsminger replied, “I think that is a great question because we’ve already finished negotiating Minute 323, which is an addendum to the 1944 treaty between the United States and Mexico. And pursuant to Minute 323, if we get this done about by the end of April, that will kick in the water scarcity plan and will have the country of Mexico leaving water in Lake Mead during the next water year. If we finalize this before the August 24-month study, Nevada and Arizona will be adding water to the lake next year. And it also removes some disincentives. Right now, in the current law, people are incentivized to actually move water out of the reservoir right as we’re on the brink of a shortage. By tweaking the way we’re allowed to deliver water, we will actually be incentivizing people to leave the water in the lake. So if you add all of that up, you’re in the range of five to six feet of elevation in Lake Mead by acting immediately rather than waiting into next year.”

Cortez Masto continued, “What is the worst case scenario if the DCP is not implemented?”

Entsminger replied, “Well certainly, if you look at the Bureau’s modeling, when they start looking at individual traces where you’re stacking a 2002, 2012, 2013 in a row without the DCP in place, by 2026 during the operation of DCP, you could have a situation where Lake Mead does get to deadpool. And again, that’s the elevation at which the Bureau of Reclamation cannot release water downstream to California, Arizona and the country of Mexico.”


The Drought Contingency Plan is the product of years of research, partnership and negotiation pursued by stakeholders from the seven basin states and the United States Bureau of Reclamation. To implement the DCPs, Congress must pass legislation that directs the Secretary of the Interior to carry out the outlined provisions.

The Colorado River Basin supplies water to more than one in ten Americans and irrigates 5.5 million acres of farmland. Las Vegas Valley draws 90 percent of its water supply through Lake Mead, which could face a shortage as soon as 2020. Nevada’s recreational economy also depends on water security from Lake Mead, making conservation and restoration efforts surrounding the Colorado River a priority for Senator Cortez Masto and crucial for Nevadans.

Full video of this exchange is available here.