Arizona and Nevada will be hit with another round of cuts to their water supply, as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday that the ongoing drought continues to threaten water levels of the Colorado River and, by extension, impact communities across the West.
The announcement comes as western portions of the U.S. have already had to take a series of rare and even unprecedented steps to ration water to large parts of the country. June saw historic lows in the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead in Nevada.
Tuesday’s announcement included designating Lake Mead to operate in a Tier-2a shortage, which increases water restrictions on Arizona, Nevada and parts of Mexico. This is the first time that the lake has received this designation.
The new regulations are based on federal government projections of reservoir water levels over the next 24 months and will take effect in January 2023.
” Every sector of every state is responsible for ensuring water use efficiency,” Tanya Trujillo (assistant secretary for water science and water policy at the Department of Interior) stated in a statement. “In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced,” she added.
Water rights work based on negotiated agreements on how much water a particular state or country can draw from a body such as Lake Mead. The Colorado River provides water to seven states and Mexico, as stipulated in a 2019 agreement that outlines the river’s water administration amid the ongoing historic drought exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Based on this agreement, Arizona is facing the most severe cuts. In Tier-2a, Arizona will forfeit an additional 80,000 acre feet of water from Lake Mead, taking water away from cities and tribes, in addition to the state’s agriculture sector which was already hit by a previous round of cuts.
The new restrictions come as the seven states that rely on the Colorado River system missed a deadline mandated by the Bureau of Reclamation to come up with a plan to conserve at least 15% more water on top of preexisting restrictions. The Bureau of Reclamation has announced that they have a variety of methods to “meet increased conservation needs” via administrative actions, investments, and support. The bureau did not specifically say what those actions and investments are or how they will be implemented.
The water levels in Lake Mead will continue to fall and there are likely to be more restrictions.
The restrictions and the aspirations of the bureau have caused tension among the parties, with Arizona continuing to suffer the brunt.
“Where we’re doing the lion’s share, California is doing zip, and Mexico is doing some of it, but not very much,” said Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water to more than 80% of the state’s population. “Doing more for us is an extremely heavy lift and we can’t do it without other folks doing the equivalent.”
Lucas Thompson is a content producer for the NBC News Climate Unit.
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