Southwestern states face deeper water cuts as drought grips Colorado River Basin

Federal officials on Tuesday announcement the first-ever “Level 2” water shortage for the lower Colorado River Basin – a designation that will trigger further water use reductions for Arizona, Nevada and neighboring Mexico next year.

The country’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are now at 28% of their full capacity, a historic low, and continue to contract amid a climate-fuelled ‘mega-drought’ for the past 23 years. The researchers have concluded that the southwestern United States is experiencing its driest period in at least 1,200 years.

Camille Touton, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, told reporters on Tuesday that the Colorado River system, on which some 40 million people depend for water, is approaching a “tipping point.”

“Protecting the system means protecting the people of the American West,” Touton said.

A new Bureau of Reclamation study predicts Lake Powell’s water level will drop to 3,522ft by early next year, just 32ft above the minimum level required to generate power hydroelectric. Lake Mead’s water level is expected to be at 1,048 feet, enough to trigger the next water shortage designation. The situation has prompted federal authorities to limit releases from the Glen Canyon and Hoover dams again next year. And the states in the lower basin will be forced to limit their water consumption for the second consecutive year.

A once sunken boat stands in the air with its stern stuck in the mud along the shore of Lake Mead near Boulder City, Nevada. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Arizona will bear the brunt of next year’s cuts, losing 21% of its annual Colorado River water allocation, up from 18% this year. Nevada will have to reduce its water consumption by 8%. And the country of Mexico will lose 7% of its annual allocation. California narrowly avoided having to reduce its water consumption in 2023.

But the cuts announced Tuesday will not bring Western states closer to the water conservation goal the Biden administration set earlier this year. In June, the Bureau of Reclamation issued an ultimatum to seven Colorado River Basin states: Develop a plan by mid-August to collectively reduce next year’s water use by between 2 million and 4 million people. acre-feet per year (about 15% to 30%), otherwise the federal government would step in and impose appropriate cuts in order to avoid a disaster.

That federal deadline came this week without the states having reached such an agreement.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Touton and other administration officials acknowledged that states have yet to identify a voluntary pathway, but refrained from announcing additional mandates or new deadlines.

“Today we begin the process and more information will follow regarding the actions we will take in this process,” Touton said. “But I want to continue to stress the need for partnership in this space and the need for collaboration, and finding a consensual solution – not just for next year, but for the future.”

There’s an old adage in the West that “whiskey is for drinking – water is for fighting”. As climate change drives up temperatures and fuels drought, dwindling water resources are already a growing point of contention. The drought is help drive food and water insecurity in East Africa. And a UN report earlier this year found that water deficits are linked to 10% of the increase in global migration between 1960 and 2015.

Tanya Trujillo, deputy secretary of the office for water and science, warned of the high stakes in the western United States

“Without responsive and rapid action and investment now, the Colorado River and the citizens who depend on it will face a future of uncertainty and conflict,” she said.

The Huffington Gt

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