At issue are falling water levels at the West’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead. Having already dropped by more than 150 feet over the past two decades to 1,077 feet, the Nevada reservoir is two feet shy of falling below a federal threshold that can trigger mandatory cutbacks by U.S. officials.
Nevada, California—and Mexico—have mostly agreed to a regional Drought Contingency Plan that would adopt more reductions in the amount of water drawn from the river. But bureaucratic infighting between two Arizona agencies had delayed adoption of the plan.
The Central Arizona Project, which manages most of the state’s river water, and Arizona Department of Water Resources have been in a year-long dispute over the plan, and in May the two agencies pledged to work together.
“The risk is real, and the time for action is now,” Terry Fulp, regional director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, said in a recent public meeting on the issue in Tempe, Ariz.
The Colorado River, which supplies water to 40 million people from Denver to Los Angeles, has been gripped in the driest 19-year period on record, according to officials from the Bureau of Reclamation, a multistate agency that manages water and power in the West. With low snowpack and warm conditions again, runoff from the river this year is only about 40% of the long-term average, prompting renewed concerns over the water level in Lake Mead.