(SALT LAKE CITY, Utah) — For the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the West endures an extreme drought, federal officials announced Tuesday.
States will be forced to take critical decisions regarding where they cut back consumption and which areas to grow in order to avoid making the next-year’s budget cuts.
These cuts will put state officials under greater pressure to plan for an even hotter and dryer future as well as a larger population. Mexico is also facing cuts.
“We are taking steps to protect the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for their lives and livelihoods,” said Camille Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.
It supplies water to seven US states as well as Mexico, and feeds an industry worth $15 billion annually. Cities and farms are anxiously awaiting official estimates of the river’s future water levels that will determine the extent and scope of cuts to their water supply.
That’s not all. In addition to those already-agreed-to cuts, the Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday that states had missed a deadline to propose at least 15% more cuts needed to keep water levels at the river’s storage reservoirs from dropping even more.
For example, officials have predicted that water levels at Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, will plummet further. The current level of the lake is less than 25%.
Continue reading: Find out how much water has vanished from Lake Mead during the last 30 years
“The states collectively have not identified and adopted specific actions of sufficient magnitude that would stabilize the system,” Touton said.
After putting last year’s burden on the agricultural industry, Arizona officials will have to decide whether to spread additional pain to growing cities that rely on the river.
The cuts are not expected to have a tangible effect on Nevada, which has already implemented the region’s most aggressive conservation policies, including grass bans and rebate programs.
While the Bureau of Reclamation is “very focused on just getting through this to next year,” any cutbacks will likely need to be in place far longer, said University of Oxford hydrologist Kevin Wheeler.
“What contribution the science makes is, it’s pretty clear that that these reductions just have to have to stay in place until the drought has ended or we realize they actually have to get worse and the cuts have to get deeper,” he said.
These cuts were based upon a 2019 plan that Mexico and seven other states signed to maintain the reservoir level.
According to this plan, water allocations for states depend on Lake Mead’s water levels. The lake was low enough last year that the federal government declared a water shortage. This triggered mandatory cuts in Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico for 2022.
According to officials, the fall in lake levels will cause additional reductions to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico for next year. Cuts are unlikely to be made in states with more important water rights.
Reservoir levels have been falling for years — and faster than experts predicted — due to 22 years of drought worsened by climate change and overuse of the river.
Continue reading: America’s Clean Water Crisis Goes Far Beyond Flint. There’s No Relief in Sight
Due to scorching temperatures, the water flow from Rocky Mountains has been reduced. The Rocky Mountains are where the river’s origins. It then snakes southwest for 1,450 miles (2.334 km) and finally into the Gulf of California.
This year, remarkable steps were taken to preserve water in Lake Powell. The other reservoir of the Colorado River, Lake Powell, sits upstream from Lake Mead, and crosses the Arizona-Utah border. Glen Canyon Dam is a reservoir that receives water from Lake Powell. It produces enough electricity each year to power approximately 1 million to 1.5 million homes.
The federal government announced they would retain an additional 480,000 acres of Lake Powell water (more that 156 billion Gallons, or 592 Million cubic meters), to make sure the dam can still generate energy. Normally, this water would flow to Lake Mead.
Under Tuesday’s reductions, Arizona will lose slightly more water than it did this year, when 18% of its supply was cut. Arizona will see a further 3% reduction in its water supply by 2023. This represents a total 21% drop from the initial allocation.
Mexico will lose 7 percent of its 1.5 million acres-feet each year it gets from the river. It lost 5% last year. The water is a lifeline for northern desert cities including Tijuana and a large farm industry in the Mexicali Valley, just south of the border from California’s Imperial Valley.
Nevada also will lose water — about 8% of its supply — but most residents will not feel the effects because the state recycles the majority of its water used indoors and doesn’t use its full allocation. The state suffered a 7% loss last year.
Naishadham Washington, DC.
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