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Science and Innovations

Colorado River Water Shortage Could be Declared in 2020

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects a 52 percent chance of a water shortage on the Colorado River in 2020. Arizona would bear the brunt of mandatory cutbacks. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

A shortage is declared if Lake Mead drops below one thousand seventy five feet in elevation. If that happens, Arizona would lose 11 percent of its Colorado River allotment. Nevada would lose 4 percent and Mexico 3 percent. Further drops in the water’s level would trigger bigger cuts.

A shortage declaration is unprecedented. Marlon Duke of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says reservoirs are depleted from 19 years of drought. He says, "This is the worst drought in at least the last 100 years of our recorded history, and as we look back further than that, we can see signs that this one of the worst droughts probably the last 1,200 years of the paleo-record." 

The U.S. and Mexico have agreed to a strategy to conserve the Colorado River, but it won’t go into effect unless Arizona, Nevada and California finish their “drought contingency plan.”

Malcolm Wilson leads the Water Resources Group for the Upper Colorado Region. He says, "I think it’s very important for the basin as a whole to work together collaboratively, as they’ve have done for decades, and work toward avoiding this crisis."

That call for cooperation comes at a time when Upper Basin states have accused Arizona of delaying the drought plan and managing its water supply to maximize releases from Lake Powell.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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