A deeper water shortage on Lake Mead is hardly the worst thing we’re facing

Lake Mead Sunset 2015: A 6-shot panorama of Lake Mead after sunset. On this clear day the sky changed colors several times from yellow to orange to magenta and blue./Flickr

Opinion: The 2023 water shortage may be painful, but we could enact every previously agreed cut and it would not be enough to save Lake Mead. We must do more.

By Joanna Allhands | The Arizona Republic

The federal Bureau of Reclamation has declared a deeper level of water shortage for Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir.

But that was not the most consequential thing Reclamation announced – or, more accurately, skirted – on Aug. 16.

It’s also not the gargantuan cut that some media reports make it out to be.

If anything, we got off easy.

What did Reclamation declare?

A Tier 2a shortage is the deepest mandatory cut we have made to date, one that entails 592,000 acre-feet – 21% – of Arizona’s apportionment from Lake Mead. Nevada must cut 25,000 acre-feet (8%) and Mexico 104,000 acre-feet (7%).

These are significant amounts of water.

But considering that Arizona has already left 800,000 acre-feet of water in the lake this year – a combination of mandated cuts and voluntary, compensated conservation efforts – it’s not exactly a “drastic” cut, as one headline suggested.

Nor is it something new or unexpected. We’ve been planning for this for years.

Where were we before?

A sign marks Lake Mead’s 2002 water level — with the current shoreline far in the background — on July 9, 2022, near Boulder City, Nev.

Reclamation declared the first water shortage on Lake Mead last August – a Tier 1 shortage – which was created as part of a 2007 agreement that aimed to cut use when the lake hit certain low levels.

Arizona agreed to take the brunt of the cuts, and in a Tier 1 shortage, Arizona must trim 512,000 acre-feet of use. So, a Tier 2a ratchets that up for us by 80,000 acre-feet.

What’s in Lake Mead? 5 bodies, sunken boats and a ghost town – so far

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