Arizona to lose 21% of the state’s annual allotment of Colorado River water in historic cuts
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) — The federal government on Tuesday announced water cuts to states that rely on the Colorado River, including Arizona, as drought and climate change leave less water flowing through the river and deplete the reservoirs that store it.
Farmers in central Arizona will largely shoulder the cuts, as they did this year. Under Tuesday’s reductions, Arizona is expected to lose slightly more water than it did this year, when 18% of its supply was cut. In 2023, it will lose an additional 3%, an aggregate 21% reduction from its initial allocation.
The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people across seven states in the American West as well as Mexico and helps feed an agricultural industry valued at $15 billion a year. Cities and farms across the region are anxiously awaiting official hydrology projections — estimates of future water levels in the river — that will determine the extent and scope of cuts to their water supply.
Water officials in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming are expecting federal officials to project Lake Mead — located on the Nevada-Arizona border and the largest manmade reservoir in the U.S. — to shrink to dangerously low levels that could disrupt water delivery and hydropower production and cut the amount of water allocated to Arizona and Nevada, as well as Mexico.
Arizona is experiencing the largest portion of the cuts announced on Tuesday with 592,000 acre-feet cut from the state’s allocation from the Colorado River. The state will take on 82 percent of the total cuts to allocation slated to begin in 2023.
“It is unacceptable for Arizona to continue to carry a disproportionate burden of reductions for the benefit of others who have not contributed,” Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke and Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke said in a statement following the cuts.
The State of California will not experience any allocation cuts as a part of the plan.
“There’s money and power and there’s a lot of people in southern California and my guess is California is a strong State politically,” Jeffrey Silvertooth, with the University of Arizona Department of Environmental Science, said.
Together, the projections and the deadline for cuts are presenting Western states with unprecedented challenges and confronting them with difficult decisions about how to plan for a drier future.
It doesn’t mean immediate changes overnight. Sarah Porter, the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, spoke with Arizona’s Family reporter Whitney Clark about the water cuts last week. “The Colorado River is not the sole source of water for communities impacted by these shortages. So we don’t need to worry that our taps are going to go dry,” Porter said. “There are backup supplies, there are other sources of supply, but there is just less water available.”
The cuts are based on a plan the seven states as well as Mexico signed in 2019 to help maintain reservoir levels. Under that plan, the amount of water allocated to states depends on the water levels at Lake Mead. Last year, the lake fell 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.
Experts believe the cuts are a good step to conserving water from the Colorado River, but they also say the measures set to take effect in 2023 are not enough to bring the system back to normal.
“It’s a step it’s a step in the right direction,” Silvertooth said. “The only problem is the subsequent steps need to happen pretty fast, real fast, because Mother Nature is dictating this to us, and this is where we have to respond.”
The City of Phoenix also has its own Drought Pipeline Project. Learn more about it here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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