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US West on Brink of a Water Crisis

(Noted News) — Man-made lakes supplying water to tens of millions of people in the US West and Mexico are shrinking at accelerating rates, with federal officials preparing for usage cuts in Arizona and Nevada. 

The US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) published a 24-month projection that predicts less water coming through the Colorado River from Lake Power and Lake Mead in the Rockies. Each of these lakes are expected to experience high enough drops in water levels to the point that the USBR is declaring an official shortage for the first time in history. 

The exact prediction is that Lake Mead’s water levels will fall below 1,075 feet for the first time in June 2021, which is the level being cited as justification for usage cut mandates. The cause of the dropping water levels is being tied to less snowpack melting from the mountains that flow into rivers and tributaries, as well as hotter temperatures that have dried up surrounding soil causing more water to evaporate and be sucked into the land.

The federal mandate, known as a “Drought Contingency Plan,” was agreed up by the seven states heavily reliant on water from the Colorado River: Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, California, and Arizona. 

Arizona’s Department of Water Resources said in a statement that they are prepared for water shortages continuing possibly 2 years down the road.

“The results continue to show a very high likelihood of Tier 1 reductions in 2022 and 2023, as well as an increasing risk of Tier 2 conditions in the near future. We are prepared for these conditions, thanks in large part to Arizona’s unique collaborative efforts among water leaders including tribes, cities, agriculture, and environmental organizations that developed innovative conservation and mitigation programs as part of the implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan.” 

“The DCP was approved by the Arizona Legislature and signed by Governor Ducey in early 2019 and almost immediately demonstrated its value. Its implementation offset potentially deeper cuts in Arizona’s Colorado River allocation beyond the 192,000 acre-feet that the State annually has stored in Lake Mead for several years.”

“The study, while significant, is not a surprise. It reflects the impacts of the dry and warm conditions across the Colorado River Basin this year, as well as the effects of a prolonged drought that has impacted the Colorado River water supply,” officials from the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Central Arizona Project said in a joint statement.

The USBR has projected that Lake Mead’s water levels could also drop to a point where it threatens the electricity supply of Arizona, California, and Nevada which all depend on hydroelectric generation at Hoover Dam. The bureau has reportedly spent nearly ten years upgrading the turbines inside the dam to be more efficient in preparation for less water in the future. The goal is to get them efficient enough that even at severely low water levels, the turbines still spin and generate power.

Diminishing water supplies in the US West echoes predictions of the scientific community from some time ago. David Boyd, the UN’s Rapporteur on human rights and environment, said in a report from March that the global water crisis was getting worse. 

“Human use of water, water pollution, and the degradation of aquatic ecosystems continue to accelerate because of population growth, economic growth, the climate emergency, land-use change, extractivism, inefficient use of water, and weak planning, regulation, and enforcement.”

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