Some states may see water cuts in years ahead
FRISCO — Early summer runoff is surging high in the headwaters of the Colorado River, but far below, in the Nevada desert, the water is draining out of Lake Mead faster than the river can replenish it.
The giant reservoir this week hit a new all-time low level, dropping just below 1,075 feet above sea level — a warning sign that some states may have to curtail their use of Colorado River water in the years ahead.
Federal water managers expect the water level to rebound later this year with releases from Lake Powell, but the steady 15-year drop clearly shows that the West has been using more water than the Colorado River can provide.
Under an agreement negotiated in 2007, Arizona and Nevada could see their share of Colorado River water cut by 300,000 and 75,000 acre feet respectively, if the water level in Lake Mead is below 1,075 feet at the start of a new calendar year.
A wet spring in the Upper Colorado River Basin this year makes it unlikely that those cuts will happen in 2015 or 2016, according to veteran water watchers. But the steady long-term downward trend is a warning sign for all the states, towns and businesses that depend on Colorado River water.
“Lake Mead registering below 1,075 feet is the clarion call we need to work together and be even more aggressive on water efficiency,” said Bob Gripentog, president, Las Vegas Boat Harbor. “Like mine, every business from Denver to San Diego depends on a communal effort to make every drop count.”
As a member of the Protect the Flows network, Las Vegas Boat Harbor joins over 1,100 businesses promoting water policies, efficiencies and new technologies that will bring supply and demand on the Colorado River system back in to balance. The group says the the river system is “over-allocated” by about 2 million acre feet annually, meaning it can’t deliver all the water that’s been claimed.
“Every resident, every business in the Colorado River basin needs to know the American Southwest is now and always will be on a water budget,” said Craig Mackey, Co-Director of Protect the Flows. “Companies, cities, farms across the Basin are finding efficiencies, crafting solutions—but we must do a better job of ringing the bell, working together and sharing best practices.”
This year’s wet spring in the Upper Colorado River Basin may have helped delay the potential cuts in water supplies to Arizona and Nevada. The federal Bureau of Reclamation has upped its estimate for inflows into Lake Powell, upstream of Lake Mead, which gives states and federal water managers a little more more leeway to “balance” water supplies in the two reservoirs.