For the second year in a row, Western states will have to make significant cuts to water usage as the Colorado River and the Lake Mead reservoir has now reached Level 2 water shortage status.
The drought in the Colorado River basin is reaching "a tipping point," Camille Calimlim Touton, the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner, said. Her remarks come as the bureau announced its forecast for the water system in the West at a time when the region is experiencing a multi-year megadrought made worse by the climate crisis.
Touton said the Colorado River basin is in its 23rd year of a "historic drought." This year's forecast prompted the bureau to declare a Tier 2 water shortage on the Colorado River — forcing several Southwest states to make mandatory water cuts for the second year in a row.
The commissioner said Lake Powell and Lake Mead — the country's two largest reservoirs — are also at "historically low levels."
“The system is approaching a tipping point and without action we cannot protect the system and the millions of Americans who rely on this resource," Touton said.
By taking conservation actions, like water cuts, she said the bureau needs to ensure communities, tribal nations and the environment are sustained, not just next year but for the future
"Protecting the system means protecting the people of the American West," she said.
There's no reason to believe things are going to get better anytime soon, environmentally or politically.
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 come January — the threshold required to declare a Tier 2 shortage starting in 2023.
Lake Mead’s level has been around 1,040 feet this summer, just 27% of its full capacity.
The Tier 2 shortage means Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will have to further reduce their Colorado River use beginning in January. California will not have cuts made to to their Colorado River yet. (The threshold for California’s first cut is 1,045 feet in January.)
Of the impacted states, Arizona will face the largest cuts — 592,000 acre-feet — or about 21% of the state’s yearly allotment of river water.
“Every sector in every state has a responsibility to ensure that water is used with maximum efficiency. In order 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,” Interior’s assistant secretary for water and science Tanya Trujillo said in a statement.
Interior’s projections show that by January of next year, Lake Mead’s water surface elevations will be at 1,047.61 feet. Meanwhile, Lake Powell’s water surface elevation will be at 3,521.84 feet – 32 feet above minimum power pool, or the amount needed to generate electricity from hydroelectric operations.
Separately, US Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton and other federal water officials said they are prepared to take additional administrative actions needed to protect the Colorado River, Lake Powell and Lake Mead from falling to “critically low levels.”
Earlier this summer, Touton set a deadline of mid-August for the seven Colorado River states to come up with a plan to cut as much as 25% of their river water usage. It became apparent early this week that those negotiations have stalled, which led some lawmakers and state water officials to call on the federal government to take aggressive action on their own.
Interior has not yet outlined next steps in Touton’s demand for the states’ plan.
If you thought the fight between white supremacist terrorists in the Southwestern US and the Biden administration was bad before, wait until Arizona declares war on California over water restrictions.
Does anyone believe GOP crackpot Kari Lake, if elected governor of Arizona, would comply with Biden Interior Department water regulations for a moment?
This has all the makings of a real, actual battle over resources, and it's only a taste of what's coming in the months and years ahead.