Colorado River cuts expected for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico : NPR


Visitors view the dramatic bend in the Colorado River at the popular Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, in Page, Ariz., on September 9, 2011.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

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Ross D. Franklin/AP

Visitors view the dramatic bend in the Colorado River at the popular Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, in Page, Ariz., on September 9, 2011.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

SALT LAKE CITY — The federal government is expected to announce water restrictions on Tuesday for states that rely on the Colorado River, as drought and climate change reduce the flow of water through the river and deplete the reservoirs that store this river.

The Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people in seven states in the American West and Mexico and helps feed an agricultural industry worth $15 billion a year. Cities and farms across the region are anxiously awaiting official hydrological projections — estimates of future water levels in the river — that will determine the magnitude and scope of cuts to their water supplies.

Water officials in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming expect federal officials to shrink Lake Mead — located on the Nevada-Arizona border and the largest man-made reservoir in the U.S. — to dangerously low levels that could disrupt water supplies and hydropower production and reduce the amount of water allocated to Arizona and Nevada, as well as Mexico.

And that’s not all: State officials are also trying to meet a deadline imposed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to reduce their water use by at least 15% to prevent water levels in the river’s storage reservoirs from rising even further. drops.

Together, the projections and deadline for austerity pose unprecedented challenges to Western states and confront them with difficult decisions about how to plan for a drier future.

While the Bureau of Reclamation is “very focused on getting this through to next year,” any cutbacks will likely need to be in effect for much longer, said University of Oxford hydrologist Kevin Wheeler.

“What science is contributing is that it’s pretty clear that these cuts just have to keep going until the drought ends or we realize they have to get worse and the cuts have to get deeper,” he said.

The cuts expected to be announced Tuesday are based on a plan the seven states and Mexico signed in 2019 to help maintain reservoir levels. Under that plan, the amount of water allocated to states depends on the water levels at Lake Mead. Last year, the lake fell so low that the federal government was able to declare a first-ever water shortage in the region, leading to mandatory budget cuts for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico by 2022.

Officials expect hydrologists to forecast the lake to fall further, leading to additional budget cuts in Nevada, Arizona and Mexico next year. States with higher priority water rights are not expected to see any cuts.

Reservoir levels have been falling for years — and faster than experts predicted — as a result of 22 years of drought exacerbated by climate change and overuse of the river. Scorching temperatures and less snowmelt in the spring have reduced the flow of water from the Rocky Mountains, where the river rises before winding 2,334 kilometers southwest into the Gulf of California.

Extraordinary measures have already been taken this year to retain water in Lake Powell, the Colorado River’s other major reservoir, which lies upstream from Lake Mead and straddles the Arizona-Utah border. Water from the lake flows through the Glen Canyon Dam, which produces enough electricity to power between 1 million and 1.5 million homes each year.

After water levels at Lake Powell reached levels low enough to threaten hydropower production, federal officials said they would hold back another 480,000 acre feet (more than 156 billion gallons or 592 million cubic meters) of water to make it happen. ensure that the dam could still produce energy. That water would normally flow into Lake Mead.

During Tuesday’s cuts, Arizona is expected to lose slightly more water than it did this year, when 18% of its supply was cut. In 2023, it will lose another 3%, a total reduction of 21% from its original allotment. Farmers in central Arizona will largely take on the cuts, just like this year.

Mexico is expected to lose 7% of the 1.5 million acre feet it receives from the river each year. Last year it lost about 5%. The water is a lifeline for northern desert cities, including Tijuana and a large agricultural industry in the Mexicali Valley, just south of the California Imperial Valley border.

Nevada also plans to lose water — about 8% of its supply — but most residents won’t feel the effects because the state recycles most of the water used indoors and doesn’t use all of its allocation. Last year, the state lost 7%.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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