Time to move faster on cutting Colorado River use, conservationist warns

Water levels on Lake Powell are being closely watched by the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada. Brian Richter of the nonprofit group Sustainable Waters estimates that Lake Powell has lost an average of around 600,000 acre-feet a year since 2000
/Mark Henle / The Arizona Republic 2013

By Tony Davis | Arizona Daily Star  

Arizona and the other Lower Colorado River Basin states need to cut their water use more and faster to bring the river’s falling reservoirs into sustainability, a longtime water conservation advocate says.

The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada need to cut total water use by 18% from their 2000-2018 average to bring Lakes Mead and Powell into a long-term state of balance, says Brian Richter.

Richter is president of the nonprofit group Sustainable Waters and a former director and chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy’s Global Water program.

His statement comes despite last year’s approval by all Colorado River basin states of a drought plan that will reduce water use some but not nearly that much in the short term.

The Lower Basin’s annual water use average was very close to 7.5 million acre-feet, the same amount the three states are legally able to pull from the river each year, Richter said, citing U.S. Bureau of Reclamation statistics.

In 2019, the three states came a long way toward reaching Richter’s goal. The basin’s annual river water use will wind up at only 6.567 million acre-feet, the reclamation agency estimated at year’s end. That was the lowest annual total water use since 1986, when the Central Arizona Project wasn’t fully online yet, meaning that a lot of Arizona’s water was still staying in the river. The CAP’s canals deliver Colorado River water to Tucson and Phoenix for drinking and to farmers for irrigation.


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