The federal government announced Tuesday that the Colorado River will operate in a Tier 2 deficit condition for the first time from January, as the West’s historic drought has taken a heavy toll on Lake Mead.
According to a new projection from the Department of the Interior, Lake Mead’s water level will be below 1,050 feet above sea level in January — the threshold needed to declare a Tier 2 deficit as of 2023.
Lake Mead’s level this summer was about 1,040 feet, only 27% of its full capacity.
The Tier 2 deficit means Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will have to further reduce their use of the Colorado River from January. California won’t cut back on the water it receives from the Colorado River just yet. (The threshold for the first cut in California is 1045 feet in January.)
Of the affected states, Arizona will face the biggest cuts — 592,000 acre feet — or about 21% of the state’s annual river water allocation.
“Every industry in every state has a responsibility to ensure that water is used as efficiently as possible. 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,” Tanya Trujillo, the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, said in a statement. .
The interior projections show that by January next year, Lake Mead’s water surface elevations will be at 1,047.61 feet. Meanwhile, Lake Powell’s water surface will be 3,521.84 feet – 32 feet above the minimum power pool, or the amount needed to generate electricity from hydroelectric operations.
Separately, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton and other federal water officials said they are willing to take additional administrative measures needed to protect the Colorado River, Lake Powell and Lake Mead from sinking to “critically low levels.” “.
Earlier this summer, Touton set a mid-August deadline for the seven Colorado River states to come up with a plan to reduce as much as 25% of their river water consumption. Early this week, it became clear that those negotiations have stalled, leading some lawmakers and state water officials to call on the federal government to take aggressive action itself.
Home Office has not yet outlined the next steps in Touton’s demand for the states’ plan.