Shortage Declared On Colorado River; Arizona Slated For Water Cuts

Aug 17, 2021

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has declared a shortage on the Colorado River that will take effect at the start of next year. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, the news comes as the river’s major reservoirs drop to historically low levels. 

The main boat launch ramp at Wahweap on Lake Powell, July 2021.
Credit National Park Service

A Tier 1 shortage, the first ever declared, requires Arizona to cut its Colorado River supply by 18 percent, more than 500,000 acre-feet. This cut is borne almost entirely by farmers who rely on water delivered by the Central Arizona Project. Nevada and Mexico will also see reductions to their water supply.   

Tom Buschatzke of the Arizona Department of Water Resources spoke at a press conference yesterday. "This is a serious turn of events but not a crisis," he said. "The adaptive management built into the Drought Contingency Plan will serve us well as we deal with the next steps."

The Drought Contingency Plan was negotiated three years ago to deal with declining river flows. It will require deeper cuts if the levels in Lake Mead continue to drop as projected. Tanya Trujillo of the U.S. Department of the Interior says the river basin is seeing the effects of drought and climate change. "The basin is experiencing its 22nd year of drought, and earlier this summer, the reservoirs hit their lowest levels since they were originally filled," she said.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead have dropped from nearly full in the year 2000 to two-thirds empty today.