Residents of the Colorado River basin are suffering from a historic 23-year drought that is being exacerbated by climate change. With warmer and drier conditions, the river, which supplies water to seven western states and Mexico, is drying up.
This week the federal government announced unprecedented cuts for two states and Mexico, but officials say more needs to be done to cope with dwindling water supplies. In the meantime, the negotiations between the federal states about self-imposed cuts have come to a standstill.
“I feel like we haven’t gotten to the point where every water user on the river accepts that everyone needs to be a part of this solution,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority new york times’ Heinrich Brunnen.
The Colorado River begins in the Rocky Mountains and stretches 1,450 miles into Mexico and the Gulf of California. Its two main reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have been dramatically reduced by rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall. Extreme heat is evaporating the river and the mountain snowpack that feeds it, and dry land is absorbing the runoff before it reaches the reservoirs, the writes The Washington Post Joshua Partlow and Karin Brulliard.
The use of the river water is based on agreements largely negotiated in the early 20th century that did not include the 30 tribal nations living in the river basin. grid Dave Levitan wrote in July.
These agreements were also made during a particularly wet period in the river’s history, per network. At the time, authorities estimated that the Colorado could provide 20 million acre-feet of water each year, but over the past two decades the actual flow has averaged a little over half that, and only 12.5 million acre-feet per year year provided Reuters Daniel Trotta and Caitlin Ochs.
Jack Schmidt, director of the Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University, tells the story post That says nearly 1.8 million acre-feet of water per year are likely to be overstressed in 2021 and 2022.
In June, the US Bureau of Reclamation set an August 15 deadline for Colorado River states and advocacy groups to submit a plan to reduce their water use by about 15 to 25 percent, according to CNN’s Ella Nilsen. That deadline passed without a resolution earlier this week, and federal officials have not set a new one, according to CNN. Nor have they said when the federal government will step in and impose cuts if states cannot reach an agreement.
Colorado River basin states “kept calling the bureau’s bluff,” Kyle Roerink, the executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, told the Associated Press (AP) Sam Metz, Suman Naishadham and Kathleen Ronayne on Tuesday. “Nothing has changed with today’s news except the fact that the Colorado River system keeps crashing.”
Not only is the river a source of water for 40 million people in the United States and Mexico, but it also supports billions of dollars in agricultural production, according to the Times.
Lake Mead is now less than a quarter full, nearing the point where the current wouldn’t be strong enough to generate hydroelectric power at Hoover Dam, the AP said.
The federal government announced on Tuesday that Arizona, Nevada and the country of Mexico will have to use less water for a second straight year, cuts that had previously been negotiated, per Reuters. These three areas will have access to 21 percent, 8 percent and 7 percent less water than their historical allocations, respectively Times.
But those cuts are just a fraction of what’s needed, according to the Bureau of Reclamation: The measure amounts to only about 700,000 acre-feet reductions in water use, compared with the 2 to 4 million acre-feet cuts officials were calling for had for, per CNN.
Previous cuts in Arizona have hit farmers hard, and further cuts are expected to hit agriculture hardest, which uses three-quarters of the water supply, the agency said Times. Some farmers have already had to leave fields fallow, plant less water-intensive crops or stop farming altogether Times. This, in turn, could affect the country’s food supply, the government said post.
More cuts will be needed to keep the flow flowing, and lawmakers are urging the Bureau of Reclamation to act, according to CNN.
“The water just isn’t there,” says Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River program director at the National Audubon Society Times. “It’s the cold reality, and no policy can change that.”