Drought-stricken states will get less water from the Colorado River

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For the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face reductions in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the western United States experiences extreme drought, officials said. federal.

Cuts planned for next year will force states to make crucial 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.

The Colorado River flows through the Grand Canyon (John Locher/AP)

“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 scope of cuts to their water supply.

In addition to those cuts already agreed to, the Bureau of Reclamation said states missed a deadline to come up with at least 15% more cuts needed to keep river storage tank levels from dropping even further.

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 to 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 reductions 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 had predicted – due to 22 years of drought exacerbated by climate change and overuse of the river.

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