Southwest Spared From New Federal Cuts on Colorado River Supply
What do you want to see states do to protect the Colorado River supply?
What’s the story?
- Several Southwestern states are, for now, spared from cutbacks on water supply from the Colorado River after failing to meet a federal deadline to negotiate water reductions.
- The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave the states that get water from the Colorado River Basin from June to mid-August to arrange their own cutbacks, which the states failed to do. Federal officials required cuts of 15% to 30%, which would impact the amount of water pumped out of the river. Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau reported that federal officials will continue to work with the states to reach an agreement.
- Instead of the federal cuts, the states and Mexico will have reductions based on a plan signed in 2019 to help maintain reservoir levels. This would be the second year in a row of cuts to water consumption as the West endures extreme drought. Arizona will have access to 21% less water annually moving forward, while Nevada’s supply is reduced by 8%, and Mexico’s by 7%. Farmers in each state are expected to be most affected by the water supply reductions.
Are the cuts necessary?
- The Colorado River Basin provides water to seven states — Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming — and Mexico, supporting 40 million people on top of billions of dollars of agricultural production. The two significant reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have water levels at 26% and 27% capacity. These satellite images of Lake Mead and Lake Powell show the stark decline in water levels in the last two decades:
Lake Powell captured in 1999 and 2021 by NASA Earth Observatory
Lake Mead captured in 2000 and 2022 by NASA Earth Conservatory
- Reservoir levels have been plummeting faster than expected because of the 23 years of megadrought in the region. Experts fear that if the drought continues, the reservoirs will reach "dead pool status," where the water levels are too low to flow downstream.
- The states have to make critical decisions on where to reduce their water usage and whether to prioritize urban areas or agricultural growth. Those who will be impacted still await the official estimates of the river’s future water levels, which will determine their water supply.
- If the states cannot reach an agreement, the federal government could step in and mandate reductions. Officials said cuts could be necessary next year as well to protect the reservoirs and dams of the Colorado River. Next year's reduction could be 20 to 40 times as much water as this year's.
- According to engineers, the dams will no longer be able to generate hydropower if water levels continue to fall. This would make the Western U.S.'s power grid significantly less stable.
What are they saying?
- General manager of the Central Arizona Project Ted Cooke said it is unacceptable for Arizona to continuously carry a disproportionate burden of these reductions.
- John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, hoped for more urgency from the U.S. government and believes that despite the dire situation, an agreement between the states to address and tackle the crisis seems unlikely. He said:
“...we haven’t reached the point where every water user on the river accepts that everybody has to be a part of this solution.”
- Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, Camille Touton, said in regards to further cuts:
“We are taking steps to protect the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for their lives and livelihoods…The states collectively have not identified and adopted specific actions of sufficient magnitude that would stabilize the system.”
What do you want to see states do to protect the Colorado River supply?
(Photo credit: iStock/bloodua)
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How about the federal government focus on building a national water pipe line system or canal system to move water around to states that needed. So every year with the Mississippi Valley and East Coast states flood were able to move some of that water to the West Coast.
Tax the wealthy and hold them accountable
Water all lawns, business landscaping and golf courses with recycled "gray water" and make it the law.
Stop exempting golf courses and reach people!!
I suggest that if the water needs to be used for irrigation it should be used only for crops that don't need much water.
We must start using "run-off" and recycle waste water extensively instead of depending exclusively on "fresh" water for all of our needs. This will be a complex infrastructure effort; however, avoiding it will be an economic disaster in othe ways.
I have been to Arizona; overdevelopment is rampant, especially in the arid Phoenix area. It should be stopped immediately because there is not enough water to support it. Period. Yet, they build because "you can't abridge our freedom." Well, okay, then, you have the freedom to dehydrate yourselves to death, but don't come crying for help to us in places where there are resources to support the population. you know the facts, you try to transcend them, you're on your own.
The water belongs to the people not the government. Keep the government's out of the states water rights!
Cut down California and the can desalinate.
It is unacceptable for Arizona to continuously carry a disproportionate burden of these reductions. Try desalination where appropriate and stop playing games
This is very simply a denial of reality. The hard truth is the American West is experiencing the worst drought since before the United States was established. It is already worse than the Great Dust Bowl during the 1930's. There is no sign that it will abate anytime soon. Western states must learn to conserve their water. They should start learning that lesson now before things get even worse considering that the temperatures will only go higher. The Climate Crisis is only just starting...
This all comes as the Federal Government wants to remove 5-6 dams on the snake River. On our southern border the federal government lowers the Rio Grande to a two foot level each day to allow illegal immigrants to cross. The Rio Grande could have several dams put on that river to make several large lakes that could provide water in Mexico and on the Texas border. Calimexico could put in several desalination plant to turn sea water into fresh drinkable water for large portions of Calimexico. These three steps could cut the requirement for so much water from the Colorado river. Water could be pumped from some parts of Calimexico to Nevada and even piped into Lake Meade. It would take a few years but maybe we can raise the lake level. A pipeline from the Snake river to the Colorado river could raise thd level of Lake Meade. You can say you can't pump enough water into places like K Lake Meade but if I have a brand new large 8 foot deep pool in my backyard and put one water hose in it in the morning and just let it run into the pool it eventually will fill up. We could even run a pipeline from the Mississippi River to Lake Meade to help keep the flooding in the Mississippi valley.
Let's just think out of the box. The environmentalist keep telling us that the sea levels are going to start rising by dozens of feet well put desalination plants on all our coast lines and produce clean drinkable water.
If no changes are made and things keep going as they are it will not matter soon: there will BE no Colorado water supply! It has been going more dry for years, and has never really enough to meet the demand since the late 1950s!
With the exception of California, these states do not think climate change is real! Yes the water cuts are real, and they are beginning to understand stand that the environment is changing! But they have not come to grips what changes are nessary to slow and reverse the climate change!
Tgey keep electing Representatives that appose change from fossils fuels !
No to any thoughts of diverting water from the Mississippi!
This all boils down to greed. The USBR, probably has told irrigation folks years ago to begin conserving. But greed with irrigation water has a higher priority due to the dollar. No one wants to cut back. Now towns in the southwest want lawns like in the northern states. Farmers want water to produce crops in the desert. Very similar to California browning rice in the desert. We are a wasteful, throw away country. We have forgotten how the Dust Bowl was created. All we see is green, the might greenback. What can we get out of it. Never thinking about the future. Well now we have it, and we can not eat too. You just can not stop GREED.
If the states missed their deadline then the feds should step in. The water crisis is only going to get worse and the longer aggressive action is delayed the more serious the problem becomes. If states want to control their own rights, then comply with and meet fed. deadlines or risk having the fed. do it for them. Someone has to step up to the plate and initiate action-NOW!!!!!
It's a balancing act of reducing demand for water until climate change can be slowed, but it's challenging as 2 countries, 7 states and 30 Indian tribes are involved. Population growth is driving water demand but not just those living in the southwest, but for everyone in the US as CA produces 2/3rds of the US winter produce which is one of the biggest uses of water, so this threatens US food supply & security.
The Southwest has experienced higher average temperatures between 2000 and 2020 than average (1895–2020). Some areas were more than 2°F warmer than average.
The Southwest is now in the most severe drought in at least the last 1,200 years made 40% worse by climate change, as the entire region aridities. Since the weekly Drought Monitor records began in 2000 to 2020 the entire region was abnormally dry.
The Colorado River which runs 1,450 miles through 2 counties (US, Mexico) and 7 US states (WY, CO, NM, UT, AZ, NV, CA) provides water to 40+M people, supports $1T of economic activity/year and produces 2/3rds of US winter produce, has 20% less water this century compared to last leaving its 2 main reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead 1/2 full, and water loss is estimated to decrease 9% per degree Celsius of warming
From 2000-2014, the river's flows declined 81%, a reduction of 2.9M acre-feet of water/year. One acre-foot of water will support 1 family of four/year, according to the US Bureau of Reclamation.
Drought and warming have been shrinking Colorado River due to increased evaporation caused by a reduction of snow and the rise in the absorption of solar radiation causing drying which will be greater than the projected precipitation increases
Yet due to population growth the demand for water has increased both for people living in the region, and for food for the rest of the US.
Since 1922, the Colorado River Compact Agreement has determined how the “Upper Basin” states (CO, NM, UT, WY), and the “Lower Basin” states (AZ, CA, NV) share the water in the river. In 2021, the deepening drought forced Arizona and Nevada to make painful consumption cuts, but it has become crystal clear that those efforts were not enough. On June 14, the US Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dams and reservoirs on the Colorado, made a big ask: That the river-dependent states come up with a plan in 60 days to make cuts which has been never been done before so the deadline has come & gone with no changes made.
Under a 1944 treaty, the U.S. is also obliged to send at least 1.5M acre-feet to Mexico, where the river enters the sea.
Under the agreement, cuts were to start when the Lake Mead fell below 1,075 feet above sea level, and they were to start with Arizona, the state with the most recent, or “junior” rights to the river’s water. As the level dropped further, other states and Mexico would have to take less water too.
In 2019, it became evident more aggressive action might be needed, so the states negotiated a Drought Contingency Plan that asked for bigger cuts at each risk moment. But even under the very worst-case scenarios, that plan asked all the water users together to trim about 1.375 million acre-feet which still isn’t enough
As of June 2022 as Lake Mead lost even more water it was determine the river states needed to figure out a way to cut even more than the 2019 plan (2 to 4M acre-feet of use as soon as possible).
CA has “senior” rights and uses the most water for agriculture providing 2/3rds of US winter produce relies on irrigation so water cuts will result in less food grown but the only way is to leave land fallow.
The Inflation Reduction Act allocates $4B for farmers to switch to lower-water technologies.
Los Angeles has already imposed outdoor watering restrictions this summer.
Negotiations also include 30 Native American tribes in the basin with water rights to 1/4 of the river’s current flow
The unprecedented drought in the southwest is one of many unprecedented droughts occurring around our country and around the world. While strict conservation measures are clearly the first steps needed to minimize the impact of losing potable water and arable land, other longer-term solutions are clearly needed as well.
This is a huge problem for the world as well as for our country and will get worse as the rate of climate change keeps accelerating. We need a multi-national effort to nimbly begin addressing means to get potable water to various threatened populations around the world. Current food-supply chains are already stressed and the loss of arable land will make much more of the world food insecure.
This is the time and place to turn loose innovative science and pragmatic engineering to look into effective electrolysis of salt water, reverse osmosis filtering at scale, better large scale means to seed rainfall where is is needed and means to divert water from areas suffering from increased flooding to areas in need.
There is also the danger of increasingly severe storms dumping huge rainfalls on parched landscapes with much greater flash flooding dangers.
This would be an excellent opportunity to engage the world of nations to collaborate in finding solutions for a problem which is effecting or will effect them all.
Climate scientists need to be involved especially if they see further shifting of global precipitation patterns that may suddenly turn parched landscapes into flood zones.
Dealing with the climate crisis is an incredibly complex problem where ‘solutions’ deployed at the scale needed can have severe unintended consequences which need to be assessed ahead of time, where geo-political factors will have to be addressed, and the needs of large populations at risk will have to be addressed.
Now, is the time to get started on all of this -tomorrow may be too late to make a difference.
All of us, including California, need to reduce & conserve water in the upper & lower basin states. AZ took a 21% reduction, NV 8%, Mexico 7%...California 0%! Huh???
Things have gone beyond not having a lawn. We must stop all building. We do not have the infrastructure for water. We are at the point of needing to chose between growth and feeding the country. Right now we can't do both, so all growth home building must stop.