Colorado River moves back to Tier 1 water restrictions; here’s what it means for Arizona

Arizona would have to forgo 18% of its supply in tier one, down from 21% this past year.
Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 11:13 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Federal officials are cutting back on Arizona’s water restrictions. Thanks to the massive winter we saw earlier this year. The major winter snowpack helped pad water supply at two of the country’s largest water sources.

It allows the Colorado River to move into a Tier 1 shortage which officials consider a significant improvement. A tier one shortage is much better than tier two, but officials say it’s still a shortage nonetheless. Arizona would have to forgo 18% of its supply in tier one, down from 21% this past year.

The good news? Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Arizona’s two major water reservoirs, are 20 feet higher than last year.

The update is exceptional for the short term. Over the next two years, officials don’t expect water levels in those lakes to fall significantly.

According to Sarah Porter, the director of the Kyl Center at ASU, this is to buy more time for the seven states who rely on the Colorado River time to figure out how to divide the water and find more sustainable solutions.

“Every August, the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that operates the Colorado system that we rely on, comes out with a projection for the next two years. And the projection, by the way, is where will the reservoir levels be. What are the various scenarios for where the water levels will be in 24 months? And then, based on those projections, there’s a determination of how big a cut, or if we should take any cut at all,” explained Porter. “It’s good news that we had a really good winter. The good winter we had was not going to solve all our problems with the Colorado River. But what it did is buy us some time. It bought the seven Colorado River, using states some time to negotiate more measures that we can take to keep lake powell and lake mead from crashing.”

Porter says some alternative water supply measure under consideration is expanding Bartlett Dam, which would allow SRP to store more water for conservation.

Guidelines in place for doling out Colorado River water are set to expire in 2026.

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