On Tuesday, August 16, 2022, the U.S. Department of the Interior declared the Colorado River’s first-ever tier 2 shortage. This is historic news with far-reaching consequences. This means further reductions in water delivery to the West, specifically a 21% river draw reduction for Arizona. The drought in the West looks like it will get worse before it gets better.
The Department of the Interior is also reducing Nevada’s share by 8% and Mexico by 7%. There is no required savings contribution for California for 2023 under this operating condition. All the states must figure out how to use 15% less water next year (2023) or have cuts imposed on them.
It’s not just less water; it may be less electricity too. Lake Powell is getting so low that energy production may be stopped as early as July 2023. Lake Powell is just 32 feet higher than the minimum to produce power.
The Colorado River Compact was initially signed in 1922 by seven western states and is known as “the Law of the River.” I don’t see how the people signing 100 years ago could even come close to imagining the growth in the West we see today. However, the Law of the River worked well for years and just recently began to look like an issue. Population growth in the West is not the only issue. The compact was based on the river’s flow at the time; today, the flow is much less. So it is the combination of growth and less water causing issues. There will be a good battle for water in the West, and it will be interesting to watch it unfold. Everyone needs to stay focused on what is best for the West.
There Is Some Good News For The Drought In The West
The recently signed Inflation Reduction Act includes $4 billion to combat drought. This helps all the Colorado River basin states. Overall the Act invests $369 billion in climate solutions and environmental justice. $20 billion of the $369 billion goes to helping farmers and ranchers shift to sustainable practices like crop rotation and cover crops. It also provides incentives for farmers and ranchers to manage water better. The Act has been criticized for being all carrot and no stick. However, many water experts believe what is needed is more incentives to create long-term change by moving to more technology for agricultural water.
One thing everyone agrees on is this is not the ultimate solution. We have to do more, and we have to do it more quickly. Considering a few weeks ago, this bill was dead. Getting this funding now seems like a significant victory, but more will have to come soon to deal with climate change.