US: Drought-hit states will get less from the Colorado River

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — For the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the West experiences extreme drought, reports said. federal officials announced on Tuesday.

Cuts planned for next year will force states to make critical decisions about where to cut consumption and whether to prioritize growing cities or agricultural areas.

The cuts will also put state officials under renewed pressure to plan for a hotter, drier future and a growing population. Mexico will also face cuts.

“We are taking action to protect the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for their lives and livelihoods,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton.

The river provides water to seven states and Mexico and helps fuel an agricultural industry valued at $15 billion a year. Towns and farms eagerly await official estimates of future river water levels that will determine the extent and depth of cuts to their water supply.

That’s not all. In addition to those cuts already agreed to, the Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday that states had missed a deadline to come up with at least 15% additional cuts needed to keep water levels in the river’s storage reservoirs from falling. even more.

For example, officials have predicted that water levels in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, will drop further. The lake is currently less than a quarter full.

“States have collectively failed to identify and enact specific actions of sufficient magnitude that would stabilize the system,” Touton said.

After placing last year’s toll on the agricultural industry, Arizona officials will have to decide whether to spread additional pain on growing cities that rely on the river.

The cuts are not expected to have a tangible effect on Nevada, which has already implemented the region’s most aggressive conservation policies, including grass bans and rebate programs.

While the Bureau of Reclamation is “very focused on getting into next year”, any cuts will likely need to be in place for much longer, said Kevin Wheeler, a hydrologist at the University of Oxford.

“It’s pretty clear that these cuts just need to stay in place until the drought is over or we realize they actually need to get worse and the cuts need to deepen,” he said.

The cuts are based on a plan that the seven states plus Mexico signed on to in 2019 to help maintain reservoir levels.

Under this plan, the amount of water allocated to the states depends on the water levels at Lake Mead. Last year, the lake sank low enough for the federal government to declare a first-ever water shortage in the region, triggering mandatory cuts for Arizona and Nevada as well as Mexico in 2022.

Officials expect lower lake levels to trigger additional cuts in Nevada, Arizona and Mexico next year. States with higher priority water rights should not suffer reductions.

Reservoir levels have been falling for years – and faster than experts predicted – due to 22 years of drought exacerbated by climate change and overuse of the river.

Scorching temperatures and less melting snow in the spring have reduced the amount of water flowing out of the Rocky Mountains, where the river originates before meandering 2,334 kilometers southwest and into the Gulf of California.

Already, extraordinary measures have been taken this year to keep water in Lake Powell, the Colorado River’s other large reservoir, which sits upstream from Lake Mead and straddles the Arizona-Utah border. Water from the lake passes through the Glen Canyon Dam, which generates enough electricity to power between 1 million and 1.5 million homes each year.

After Lake Powell water levels fell low enough to threaten hydroelectric generation, federal officials said they would withhold an additional 480,000 acre-feet (more than 156 billion gallons or 592 million cubic meters) of water to ensure the dam can still generate power. . This water would normally flow to Lake Mead.

As part of Tuesday’s cuts, Arizona will lose slightly more water than it did this year, when 18% of its supply was cut off. In 2023, it will lose another 3%, an overall reduction of 21% compared to its initial allocation.

Mexico will lose 7% of the 1.5 million acre-feet it receives annually from the river. Last year it lost about 5%. Water is a lifeline for northern desert towns, including Tijuana and a major agricultural industry in the Mexicali Valley, just south of the border with California’s Imperial Valley.

Nevada will also lose water – about 8% of its supply – but most residents won’t feel the effects because the state recycles the majority of its water used indoors and doesn’t use all of it. of his allowance. Last year, the state lost 7%.

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Naishadham reported from Washington.

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The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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