Colorado River water cuts further in western states

FILE - Visitors watch a dramatic bend in the Colorado River at the popular Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on September 9, 2011 in Page, Ariz.  On Tuesday, August 16, 2022, federal officials are expected to announce water cuts that would further deplete the waters of the Colorado River, some of the users in the seven U.S. states that depend on the river and receive Mexico.  (AP photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)

FILE – Visitors watch a dramatic bend in the Colorado River at the popular Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on September 9, 2011 in Page, Ariz. On Tuesday, August 16, 2022, federal officials are expected to announce water cuts that would further deplete the waters of the Colorado River, some of the users in the seven U.S. states that depend on the river and receive Mexico. (AP photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)

AP

Federal officials announced Tuesday that for the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water from the Colorado River as the West endures greater drought.

While the cuts won’t immediately result in new restrictions – such as banning lawn watering or car washing – they indicate that unpopular decisions about reducing consumption are on the horizon, including prioritizing growing cities or agricultural sectors. . Mexico will also face cuts.

But those cuts represent a fraction of the potential pain coming to the 40 million Americans in the seven states that depend on the river. Because states fail to meet a federal deadline to figure out how to cut their water use by at least 15%, they could see even deeper cuts that the government has said are water bodies. are needed to prevent them from falling so low that they cannot be pumped.

“States have not collectively identified and adopted specific actions of sufficient magnitude that would stabilize the system,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton said.

Together, the missed deadline and the latest cuts put officials responsible for providing water to cities and farms under renewed pressure to plan for a hot, drier future and a growing population.

Taunton states that a 15% to 30% reduction is necessary to ensure that water distribution and hydroelectric power generation are not disrupted. She was noncommittal on Tuesday about whether she planned to unilaterally implement those cuts if states cannot reach agreement.

He repeatedly declined to say how long it takes for states to reach a deal requested in June.

The inaction has given rise to concerns across the region that the bureau is willing to act as states clamor for their water rights, while acknowledging that a crisis is brewing.

Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said of the Colorado River Basin states, “They’ve called out the bureau hoax over and over again.” “Nothing has changed with today’s news — except for the fact that the Colorado River system keeps collapsing.”

Stephen Lewis, governor of the Gila River Indian Community in central Arizona, said the tribe was “shocked and disappointed” by the lack of progress. The tribe, which is entitled to about one-quarter of Arizona’s Colorado River distribution, no longer plans to conserve its unused water in Lake Mead, as it has in recent years, and instead store it underground. ‘s plan.

Over the years, cities and farms have diverted more water than what flows from the river, depleting its reservoirs and raising questions about how it will be divided as the water is scarce.

Arizona, Nevada and Mexico introduced mandatory cuts for the first time last year, after more than two decades of drought. Some farmers in the area have been paid for leaving their fields fallow. Residents of growing cities have been subjected to conservation measures such as limits on grass lawns.

But those efforts are not enough so far. The water level of the nation’s largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead, has dropped so low that it is currently less than a quarter full and is approaching a point dangerously close to the point where hydroelectric power at Hoover Dam can be used. Not enough water will flow to produce. Nevada-Arizona border.

Officials in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming have been reluctant to propose more drastic water-rationing measures or limits on development.

The trade-offs are emerging most prominently in Arizona, which is one of the nation’s fastest-growing states, and California has lower priority water rights than water users in the West.

Under Tuesday’s cuts, Arizona would lose an additional 80,000 acre-feet of water — 21% less than its total but only 3% less than what it’s gaining this year.

One acre foot is equal to one acre of land covered by 12 inches of water. An average family uses one and a half to one acre feet of water in a year.

After putting last year’s burden on the agriculture industry, state officials said this year’s cuts would extend to tribes and growing cities that depend on Colorado, including Scottsdale.

Rather than ration water, mandate conservation or limit development, cities would shift dependence on other sources. Phoenix, for example, will rely more heavily on the in-state Salt and Verde rivers, while directing it to recharge its groundwater aquifers to reduce its supply.

Arizona officials decry neighboring states that have not proposed cuts, while Arizona has implemented itself.

State officials said Arizona and Nevada came up with a plan to cut water use proportionately, but both California and the Bureau of Reclamation rejected that deal.

“We need California to participate; we can’t just do that with Arizona and Nevada,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

The impact of the cuts on farmers is unclear, but many fear more cuts will further increase tensions between cities and agriculture, which uses more than 70% of the basin’s water.

Phoenix area cotton farmer Paco Olerton worries the deep cuts could put his waters at risk next year. Arizona farmers had already lost their Colorado River water during the cuts, but they were compensated by water through deals with cities such as Phoenix and Tucson.

This year, Ollerton grew only half as much as before. The cuts announced on Tuesday could further squeeze those cities, raising questions about whether they will share with farmers next year.

“It changes my thinking about how long I’m going to continue farming,” Allerton said.

Nevada will also lose water – about 8% of its supply – but most residents will not feel the impact because the state uses most of its water indoors and does not use its full allocation. Last year, the state suffered a loss of 7%.

Scorching temperatures and less melting snow in the spring have reduced the amount of water flowing through the Rocky Mountains, where the river emerges 1,450 miles (2,334 kilometers) southwest and before snakes into the Gulf of California.

In the midst of a changing climate, extraordinary steps are being taken to hold water in Lake Powell, the other large Colorado River reservoir that straddles the Arizona-Utah border.

After the lake fell low enough to jeopardize hydroelectric power generation, federal officials said they would hold some of the water back to ensure the dam could still produce energy. That water normally flowed into Lake Mead.

Mexico will lose 7% of the water it receives from the river every year. Last year it had fallen by about 5 per cent. Water is a lifeline for northern desert cities, including Tijuana, and for a large agricultural industry in the Mexicali Valley south of the border from California’s Imperial Valley.

Historically, Mexico has been sidelined in discussions over river sharing, but in recent years, countries’ efforts to keep more water in the system have been critical, experts say.

“People have realized that this is a really important relationship to maintain,” said Jennifer Pitt, who directs the Colorado River program at the Audubon Society.

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Naishadham reported from Washington. Ronne reported from Sacramento, Calif.

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