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Federal Government Declares First Ever Water Shortage on Colorado River

The US Bureau of Reclamation has for the first time declared a water shortage on the Colorado River, prompting mandatory water cuts for several southwest states.

Most of the flow of the Colorado River originates in the upper portions of the Colorado River Basin in the Rocky Mountains. The Upper Basin experienced an exceptionally dry spring in 2021, with April to July runoff into Lake Powell totaling just 26% of average despite near-average snowfall last winter. The projected water year 2021 unregulated inflow into Lake Powell—the amount that would have flowed to Lake Mead without the benefit of storage behind Glen Canyon Dam—is approximately 32% of average. Total Colorado River system storage currently is 40% of capacity, down from 49% at this time last year.

“Like much of the West, and across our connected basins, the Colorado River is facing unprecedented and accelerating challenges,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “The only way to address these challenges and climate change is to utilize the best available science and to work cooperatively across the landscapes and communities that rely on the Colorado River. That is precisely the focus of the White House Interagency Drought Working Group—a multi-agency partnership created to collaborate with States, Tribes, farmers and communities impacted by drought and climate change to build and enhance regional resilience.”
Lake Mead will be in a first ever Level One Shortage Condition, which will require the following reductions and water saving contributions:

  • Arizona: 512,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 18% of the state’s annual apportionment
  • Nevada: 21,000 acre-feet, which is 7% of the state’s annual apportionment
  • Mexico: 80,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 5% of the country’s annual allotment

Arizona and New Mexico have experienced rains in the last few weeks, which have improved conditions somewhat. California, Nevada, and several other states in the US remain entirely in drought conditions, according to the US Drought Monitor. Nearly 90% of of California is in extreme or exceptional drought.

Following the federal agency’s announcement, Southern California’s water agency issued a supply alert, calling for consumers and businesses to voluntarily reduce their water use and help preserve the region’s storage reserves. The declaration seeks to avoid the need for more severe actions, like mandatory cuts and higher rates for increased usage.

“The reality is that climate change will accelerate these challenges, which will require us to think differently and innovate ways to adapt – we must build on our progress in conservation and double down on our investment in local water supplies, including recycled water and stormwater,” Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said. “We must do more.”

The plumbing industry will have an important role to play in that innovation and adaptation. To hear more about what the industry can do, check out The Authority Podcast: Plumbing and Mechanical. The first season of the podcast focused on plumbing resiliency and featured many guests involved in drought preparation, planning and policy.  

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