By Gary Pitzer | Water Education Foundation
It’s high-stakes time in Arizona. The state that depends on the Colorado River to help supply its cities and farms — and is first in line to absorb a shortage — is seeking a unified plan for water supply management to join its Lower Basin neighbors, California and Nevada, in a coordinated plan to preserve water levels in Lake Mead before they run too low.
If the lake’s elevation falls below 1,075 feet above sea level, the secretary of the Interior would declare a shortage and Arizona’s deliveries of Colorado River water would be reduced by 320,000 acre-feet. Arizona says that’s enough to serve about 1 million households in one year.
The task of charting a path around shortage hasn’t been easy. The state’s main water agencies — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), which runs the Central Arizona Project, and the statewide Arizona Department of Water Resources — have been unable to reach an accord regarding who should speak for Arizona before committing to a proposed Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Their standoff — and particularly the Central Arizona district’s management of Colorado River water — has resulted in bruised relations between Arizona and Upper Colorado River Basin states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Still, there is an increased sense of urgency to get something done, with a record-low snowpack contributing to the driest 19-year period on record. A meager runoff this year from the Rocky Mountains into Lake Powell — the Upper Basin’s key reservoir — is expected to be 42 percent of the long-term average.