Arizona, Nevada and Mexico hit with water cuts over Colorado River

Water conservation measures could affect more than 40 million people over next four years

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A second round of drastic water cuts along the Colorado River is set to hit the states of Arizona and Nevada as well as Mexico as climate change-driven drought exacerbates shortages, the US Interior Department announced on Tuesday.

The Bureau of Reclamation called for all seven Colorado River Basin states to conserve water over the next four years and said it will withhold 21 per cent of Arizona’s annual allocation of river water in 2023 as the first ever water shortage in the area continues for another year, the agency said.

A river runs dry: drought on the Colorado

A river runs dry: drought on the Colorado

Lakes Mead and Powell, reservoirs on the Colorado River that supply the south-western part of the country with water, and hydropower are both at 28 per cent of their capacity, the agency said.

The drought and the historically low levels of the two lakes — which threatens their ability to generate hydropower — have prompted the bureau to call for water conservation measures through 2026 in all seven states in the Colorado River Basin, which supplies water to 40 million people from Denver, Colorado, to Los Angeles, California.

The 2023 cuts, called “water savings contributions”, are based on existing agreements developed by Congress and are coming initially from Lake Mead, the agency said. They also include an 8 per cent cut for the state of Nevada and a 7 per cent cut in Mexico’s share of the river water.

The drought is not yet severe enough for California to lose its share yet, the agency said.

Officials from the states are also scrambling to meet a deadline imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation to slash their water use by at least 15 per cent to keep water levels at the river’s storage reservoirs from dropping even more.

Together, the projections and the deadline for cuts are presenting western states with unprecedented challenges and confronting them with difficult decisions about how to plan for a drier future.

The cuts and the bureau’s basin-wide call for conservation over the next four years come after the Colorado River Basin states themselves failed to devise their own plan to conserve water.

Human-caused climate change has intensified the western US' extreme 23-year drought, which is responsible for rising temperatures, megafires burning large sections of forests, drying up streams and making the Rocky Mountain snowpack’s ability to feed the Colorado River more uncertain.

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News agencies contributed to this report

Updated: August 16, 2022, 7:24 PM