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$11 Million to Support New Water Conservation for Drought-Stricken Colorado River

Thursday, federal and local officials announced a plan to protect water resources provided by the drought-impaired Colorado River.

Municipal water agencies in Arizona, California, Colorado and Nevada have signed a water conservation agreement which will form the Colorado River System Conservation program.

The Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern Nevada Water Authority and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will contribute $11 million for pilot projects to conserve water for agricultural, municipal and industrial use in 2015 and 2016.

The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to about 40 million people.

Pamela Pickard, president of the Central Arizona Project's board, said in June that two scenarios exist if the Colorado River basin continues in drought for another 10 years.

The scenarios she explained were water conservation measures and reduced usage in the basin states or federal intervention with decades of lawsuits.

"This is a critically important first step, and I applaud the far-sighted municipal water providers for beginning to address the imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River that could seriously affect the economy and the people who rely upon the river," U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor said in a statement.

All water conserved will stay in the river, officials said, helping to boost declining reservoir levels and benefiting the health of the river.

"The time has come for our states to work together to develop contingency strategies to manage the Colorado River under extreme drought conditions that threaten the levels of lakes Mead and Powell," General Manager John Entsminger of the Southern Nevada Water Authority said. "As Lake Mead continues to drop toward critical levels, we must simultaneously begin to take collective action now and plan additional future measures."

Precipitation prospects aren't hopeful going into the fall, AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Ben Noll said.

"Widespread relief into the fall doesn't appear likely in the drought areas of San Francisco and Northern California," Noll said. "Precipitation is expected to be about normal in the Southwest -- Arizona and Southern California."