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Science and Innovations

Arizonans Respond To Colorado River Shortage

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Arizona will lose 18 percent of its Colorado River water allotment next year because of a shortage declared this week. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, some Arizonans are looking ahead with concern to deeper cuts projected for the future as the river’s reservoirs continue to shrink.

Central Arizona farmers will bear the brunt of the shortage. Among them is Will Thelander, a third-generation farmer in Pinal County. He says he’ll have to fallow hundreds of acres of farmland. He’s pinned his hopes for the future on a desert shrub called guayule that produces natural rubber. He says, "It’s got a lot of potential to be a crop we that we could still grow on a lot less water and could still make us profitable to keep us and keep us in business, but we’ll see."

If Lake Mead continues to drop as projected, additional cuts will affect farmers, Phoenix-area cities, and tribes. Federal officials point to long term drought worsened by the warmer temperatures brought on by climate change. But Haley Paul of the National Audubon Society points out the Colorado River was overallocated when it was first divided up nearly a century ago. She says, "Inevitably we were going to face this, it’s just that climate change accelerated how quickly these decisions came upon us."

Paul says it’s time to ‘rethink how we operate’ as the Colorado River Basin states negotiate new rules for sharing water. The current operating guidelines are set to expire in 2026.

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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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