#ColoradoRiver: Lake Mead on the way to a shortage declaration in 2018? #COriver

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

A federal report shows the surface level of the lake behind Hoover Dam is expected to remain high enough this year to avoid a shortage declaration in 2017. But it’ll still be a mere 4 feet above a 1,075-foot elevation action point.

For 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects the lake level could fall short — by less than 1 foot.

That would trigger cuts in water deliveries that an official said would most affect Arizona farmers.

Chuck Cullom, Colorado River programs chief for the Central Arizona Project, said cities and tribes wouldn’t immediately be affected.

But his agency, based in Phoenix, would enact plans to drain underground storage supplies and cut irrigation allocations by half.

“It’s good to know we won’t be in shortage in 2017,” Cullom said. “We’re hopeful we can again avoid shortage in 2018.”

Las Vegas, which draws 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead, might not feel much effect of a shortage declaration because conservation and reuse programs have in recent years cut the amount of water the area consumes by about 25 percent, Southern Nevada Water Authority spokesman Bronson Mack said.

Still, conservationists said such a close call should be a wake-up to water-users.

“The good news is that we missed the trigger level. The bad news is that we missed it so narrowly and we remain dangerously close to automatic cuts,” said Nicole Gonzalez Patterson, Arizona director of the organization Protect the Flows.

“This is the loudest of wake-up signals for the region’s water managers,” she said…

Public water managers in Nevada, California and Arizona said they’ve been working together for years to avoid a shortage declaration.

They cite swaps and storage programs that have propped up the lake level, by at least temporarily reducing the amount of water drawn for use elsewhere.

John Entsminger, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, pointed to one program that lets water agencies in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix pay water rights holders to conserve and reduce their water use.

Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Rose Davis said part of the reason that the lake level will be 4 feet above shortage this year is because agencies been working since 2014 to keep water in it.

“The partners have all been tested and no one’s had it easy,” she said. “But they’re keeping to their agreements and continuing to talk.”

[…]

A shortage declaration would cut 11.4 percent of Arizona’s promised 2.8 million acre-feet, and 4.3 percent of Nevada’s allotted 300,000 acre-feet…

Even if a shortage is declared, drought-stricken California will be able to draw its full 4.4 million acre-foot allocation of Colorado River water…

William Hasencamp, Colorado River resources chief for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said he thinks that in the end a shortage declaration is inevitable.

“It’s not ‘if,’ but ‘when,’” said Hasencamp, whose agency serves nearly 19 million customers from Los Angeles to San Diego. “The fact that we’re not in shortage now is a testament to what we’ve been doing.”

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

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