Water cuts coming as drought hits US West — Analysis

Washington directed Arizona and Nevada that they reduce water consumption in extreme drought conditions.

The Southwest is experiencing its worst drought in over a millennium. Therefore, the Federal Government has reduced Colorado River water allotments to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

Arizona will feel the greatest impact from the water cuts, which will start in January. They will reduce its Colorado River allotment to 21% (or 592,000 acre feet), the US Department of the Interior announced Tuesday. Nevada is facing a cut of 8%, or 25,000 acres. Meanwhile, water flow to the US’s southern border with Mexico will drop by 7% or 104,000 acres. California, which draws more than one-third of the river’s water, won’t see any cut to the 4.4 million acre-feet of water that it receives annually.

This announcement is one year following the declaration by the federal government of an unprecedented water shortfall in Lake Mead, and the Lower Colorado River Basin. It could lead to supply shortages. A Colorado River compact signed in 1922 governs water management affecting seven states – California, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – and Mexico.

Historic megadrought plaguing America’s southwest

Water levels in Lake Mead, which was created when the Hoover Dam was built on the Nevada-Arizona border to dam the Colorado River in the 1930s, are projected by January to fall to a record low of 1,047 feet, meeting the DOI’s standard for a Tier 2 shortage. As of December, the massive lake that supplies water to over 25 million Americans was at 27% capacity, down from 37% one year earlier.

An earlier study by National Climate Change journal revealed that the Southwest suffered the driest 22 year period for at least 1,200-years. The Colorado River is the main source of Lake Mead’s water, but even in normal weather conditions its supply can be strained. Arizona and Nevada are number two and third, respectively, in the top-growing US states.

“Every sector in every state has a responsibility to ensure that water is used with maximum efficiency,”Tanya Trujillo was the US assistant secretary for water science. “In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River system and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the basin must be reduced.”

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