There is also a drought of "active and aggressive federal leadership," said one Nevada water official. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Nevada and Arizona are facing a second year of mandatory water cuts as drought and climate change threatens the river’s flow, federal officials announced Tuesday.
Under the cuts, Nevada will lose about 8% of its allocation, or 25,000 acre-feet of water, starting January 2023 as a stopgap solution to stabilize water levels at Lake Mead.
While the cuts are not expected to affect Nevada water users for now, water officials have warned that if water levels continue to fall there is a high probability that Lake Mead could get close to the point in the next decade where the Hoover Dam could no longer deliver water downstream and power production there could come to a halt.
Federal officials said Lake Mead is currently about a quarter full, adding that the declining reservoir levels is a result of a so-called “megadrought” for the past two decades.
“The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation,” said Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau.
Arizona and Mexico also face cuts starting next year, about 21% and 7% respectively. California, a lower basin state, will not face water cuts in 2023 under Tier 2 reductions, a drought contingency plan approved in 2019 which lays out how water will be doled out if a shortage occurs.
The Colorado River Basin covers more than 250,000 square miles and provides water to Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico are likely to face additional cuts next year if the flow level continues to decline. Upper basin states with higher priority water rights are not expected to see cuts.
In June, the federal agency in charge of managing much of the West’s water said states within the region would need to cut usage between 2 and 4 million acre feet in 2023 to protect the Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs. However, Colorado River Basin states failed to meet that federal deadline.
While the Bureau of Reclamation has threatened to unilaterally reduce water usage in the Colorado River Basin if state and tribal leaders didn’t reach an agreement by summer, the agency did not outline any plans to conserve the massive amounts of water needed to protect the reservoirs Tuesday.
Southern Nevada water officials expressed frustration over the lack of “meaningful collective action” and federal leadership over the past two months to “forestall the looming crisis”.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s John Entsminger acknowledged states’ inability to finalize a plan and called on the Department of the Interior to use its power to mitigate the reservoirs’ decline in a letter to Debra Haaland, the Secretary of the Interior.
“Without active and aggressive federal leadership, the states have always wallowed,” Entsminger wrote.
Conservationists echoed Entsminger’s tone and criticized federal officials for leaving Lower Basin states in worse position by failing to impose water cuts and leaving “the entire burden of cutting water use on the Lower Basin.”
“The Bureau continues to be too optimistic in forecasting water flows during this era of aridification,” said Zach Frankel, the Executive Director of Utah Rivers Council. “We’re disappointed they refuse to take action to protect flows to the Grand Canyon and the Lower Basin.”
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