Lake Mead is the main reservoir formed by Hoover Dam in Southern Nevada. Created in the 1930s as part of Hoover Dam, Lake Mead provides water storage in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River.
The reservoir’s capacity is the largest in the United States at 28,945,000 acre-feet. Most of the water is drawn from Rocky Mountain snowmelt and runoff. However, one of the largest droughts on record in the region dating back to 2000 has lowered Lake Mead’s water level. Combined storage at Lake Mead and Lake Powell is down 50 percent. Meanwhile, Lake Mead loses roughly 800,000 acre-feet of water annually through evaporation.
With Lake Mead now 39 percent full and approaching a first-ever shortage, Western states that rely on the Colorado River are looking to Arizona to sign a deal aimed at reducing the risk of the reservoir crashing. The centerpiece of Gov. Ducey’s proposed legislation is a resolution giving Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke the authority to sign the Drought Contingency Plan. The package of proposed bills also would appropriate $35 million and tweak existing legislation to make the plan work.
The draft legislation compiled by the Department of Water Resources looks similar to how water leaders described the measures at a Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee meeting last week. … But the legislation as drafted barely delves into the nitty-gritty details of a far more complex intrastate agreement that Arizona water users have been hashing out for months.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California … began what is being referred to as “defensive withdrawals” from Lake Mead. Remember, Lake Mead is severely low, and if L.A. takes all of the water they’ve been allotted, it will trigger emergency supply restrictions for everyone else. So, why are they doing this with the agreement deadline so close? The Show turned to Debra Kahn who covers California environmental policy and broke the story for Politico Pro.
Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S. are likely headed for another year of low water. That’s according to a new analysis by the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs left depleted at the end of 2018.
A proposed Colorado River drought plan that will cost well over $100 million is just the beginning of what’s needed to protect the over-allocated river, says Bruce Babbitt, the former governor who rammed through Arizona’s last big water legislation nearly four decades ago. After Gov. Doug Ducey urged legislators to “do the heavy lifting” and pass the proposed drought-contingency plan for the Colorado, Babbitt said Monday that authorities will have to start discussing a much longer-term plan immediately after it’s approved.
Arizona legislators and staff are attending closed-door primers on water policy in advance of a critical January 31 federal deadline for the state to approve the Drought Contingency Plan. The first of three meetings occurred on Friday afternoon and lasted two and a half hours. The session was led by Central Arizona Project general manager Ted Cooke and Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought, the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water may be cut off.
Gov. Doug Ducey will use his fifth State of the State speech Monday, Jan. 14, to try to corral the votes to approve a drought-contingency plan in the next 17 days or risk federal intervention. “We’re in a position now where we have a sense of urgency and focus on Arizona’s water situation,” the governor told the business community Friday in previewing the speech that kicks off the legislative session.
The Colorado River may not look like it, but it’s one of the world’s largest banks. The river is not only the source of much of the American West’s economic productivity – San Diego, Phoenix and Denver would hardly exist without it – but its water is now the central commodity in a complex accounting system used by major farmers and entire states. … This month, the nation’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan Water District, began what amounts to a run on the bank.
Up against a federal deadline to approve a Colorado River drought plan — a “generational change” in Arizona water management — four key legislators say they’re optimistic they’ll meet it. Led by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Mesa Republican, they see the Legislature as ready — finally — to officially endorse the plan. That’s even though competing water interest groups still have highly visible disagreements about it.
With a federal deadline to sign a Colorado River drought deal three weeks away, Arizona water managers are still grappling with several unresolved issues that could get in the way of finishing an agreement. The outstanding issues, some of which are proving contentious, range from developers’ concerns about securing future water supplies to lining up funding for Pinal County farmers to drill wells and begin to pump more groundwater.
First, the good news: The negotiators of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan have crafted the most detailed, concrete proposal to date laying out how Arizona will deal with expected cutbacks to its supply of Colorado River. Now, the bad: The partial shutdown of the federal government is squeezing these negotiators.
Gov. Doug Ducey used his second inaugural speech Monday to exhort lawmakers and others with a claim to Colorado River water to approve a drought contingency plan before a solution is imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s simple: Arizona and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado River than Mother Nature puts back,” the governor told his audience. “And with critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick the can any further.”
At Monday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Water District’s Planning & Stewardship Committee, officials said that with no Drought Contingency Plan in place (Arizona being the hold out), they are beginning to draw down their storage in Lake Mead. “If there is no Drought Contingency Plan, we don’t want to leave potentially half a million acre-feet or more locked up in Lake Mead if we go into shortage,” said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.
A team of researchers concludes that the ongoing drought across the western U.S. rivals most past “megadroughts” dating as far back as 800 A.D. — and that the region is currently in a megadrought. Using tree ring data as a proxy for drought conditions, the researchers say the current drought ranks fourth worst among comparable 19-year periods of megadroughts of the past 1,200 years.
Southern Nevadans will see few noticeable consequences from a soon-to-be-finalized drought contingency plan for states that get most of their water supply from the Colorado River, according to a Southern Nevada water resources expert.
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.
These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.
We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:
Colorado River water managers were supposed to finish drought contingency plans by the end of the year. As it looks now, they’ll miss that deadline. If the states fail to do their job, the federal government could step in. Luke Runyon, a reporter with KUNC who covers on the Colorado River Basin recaps what’s been happening and why it’s so important.
It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive, but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry up. Now seeking water rights from the Green River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty, growing population.
As stakeholders labor to nail down effective and durable drought contingency plans for the Colorado River Basin, they face a stark reality: Scientific research is increasingly pointing to even drier, more challenging times ahead.
The latest sobering assessment landed the day after Thanksgiving, when U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment concluded that Earth’s climate is changing rapidly compared to the pace of natural variations that have occurred throughout its history, with greenhouse gas emissions largely the cause.
The National Park Service accidentally left a key detail out of its new low-water plan for Lake Mead, much to the dismay of residents in the small, lake-crazy community of Meadview, Arizona. The plan released late last month indicated that the South Cove boat ramp, Meadview’s only nearby launch point, could be forced to close by 2020 should the lake drop another 10 feet.
With the water level in Lake Mead hovering near a point that would trigger a first-ever official shortage on the Colorado River, representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada are trying to wrap up a plan to prevent the water situation from spiraling into a major crisis. The plan is formally called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
Water managers from seven Southwestern states that depend on the Colorado River are close but haven’t finalized an unprecedented drought contingency plan they may have to enact in 2020. The federal government’s top water official, Brenda Burman, is expected to urge action Thursday at a Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas where a pact was supposed to be signed.
The Imperial Irrigation District, which holds some of the oldest and largest rights to Colorado River water, on Monday tentatively agreed to a one-time contribution of up to 250,000 acre-feet of surplus water if needed to stave off shortages in Lake Mead. But they tacked on several last-minute conditions aimed at easing farmers’ fears of permanently losing water, and to force federal and state officials to guarantee funding for clean-up of the Salton Sea.
With drought entering a second decade and reservoirs continuing to shrink, seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the overtaxed Colorado River for crop irrigation and drinking water had been expected to ink a crucial share-the-pain contingency plan by the end of 2018. They’re not going to make it — at least not in time for upcoming meetings in Las Vegas involving representatives from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the U.S. government, officials say.
The agency that manages the Central Arizona Project canal signaled its support for the latest outline of a Colorado River drought plan on Thursday in a vote that could lay the groundwork for a deal aimed at preventing Lake Mead from reaching perilously low levels. … And with this vote behind them, Arizona water officials will now have the framework of a state plan in hand as they join other water managers from across the West in Las Vegas next week for the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference, where federal officials have said they hope to wrap up a Drought Contingency Plan.
The surface level of Lake Mead, which holds water supplies for Nevada, Arizona, California, Sonora, and Baja, ended November 2018 at 1,078.32 feet above sea level. That is 2-1/2 feet below last year at this time.
Arizona’s water agencies, cities, farmers and tribes haven’t quite sealed a Colorado River deal. But they’re getting closer. The outline of a new compromise proposal emerged this week and was presented at a meeting on Thursday.
The National Park Service expects to spend about $25 million to move marinas and extend boat launch ramps if Lake Mead continues to shrink in the coming years, according to a new low-water plan released Thursday. Marina operators would pay an additional $8 million under the plan, which lays out how recreational access to the water can be maintained should the lake drop to a once-unthinkable level 125 feet lower than it is now.
After a three-year battle to keep their underground job site from flooding, the construction crew at Lake Mead is ready to let the water win. … The move will mark the latest milestone for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s low-lake-level pumping station, a $650 million safety net for a community that draws 90 percent of its drinking water from Lake Mead.
In a chapter dedicated to climate change effects in the southwest, climate scientists say “with very high confidence” that warm temperatures are reducing the water content of mountain snowpack and the flows of rivers and streams that depend on snowmelt. The chapter’s landing page features a photo of low water levels at the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead outside Las Vegas, Nevada, a near perfect symbol of the region’s ongoing water challenges.
The gap between Pinal County farmers and the Gila River Indians over how to protect the Colorado River and Lake Mead is far wider than the interstate highway separating their communities. … The Drought Contingency Plan’s goal is to reduce Arizona, Nevada and California’s take from the Colorado River over the next decade or so.
As the Colorado River Basin becomes drier and shortage conditions loom, one great variable remains: How much of the river’s water belongs to Native American tribes?
Native Americans already use water from the Colorado River and its tributaries for a variety of purposes, including leasing it to non-Indian users. But some tribes aren’t using their full federal Indian reserved water right and others have water rights claims that have yet to be resolved. Combined, tribes have rights to more water than some states in the Colorado River Basin.
Key reservoirs along the Colorado River are collectively at their lowest point at the start of a new water year since the last one filled nearly 40 years ago. As of Oct. 1 reservoirs that store the Colorado River’s water are at just under 47 percent of their capacity, according to recently released data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The Colorado River Basin is more than likely headed to unprecedented shortage in 2020 that could force supply cuts to some states, but work is “furiously” underway to reduce the risk and avert a crisis, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told an audience of California water industry people.
During a keynote address at the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento, Burman said there is opportunity for Colorado River Basin states to control their destiny, but acknowledged that in water, there are no guarantees that agreement can be reached.
Like rust slowly consuming the body of a car, drought has spread upstream on the Colorado River. The river’s Upper Basin – generally north of Lake Powell – has been largely insulated from the 19-year drought afflicting the giant watershed, thanks to the region’s relatively small water demand and heavy snows that bury Colorado’s 14,000ft peaks each winter. But this year, there was no salvation in the snowpack.
With Lake Mead dropping to levels that could trigger water cutbacks in less than two years, there’s been a lot of talk lately about negotiating a deal to keep the reservoir from falling even further. But in a new report, scientists say the situation is just as worrisome upstream at Lake Powell. The declines there during the past 18 years, they say, also reflect the Colorado River’s worsening “structural deficit.”
Despite another dry winter on the Colorado River, Lake Mead and the millions of people who rely on it will avoid a water shortage for at least one more year. According to new projections from the Bureau of Reclamation, there will be just enough water in the reservoir east of Las Vegas at the end of 2018 to stave off a first-ever federal shortage declaration that would trigger mandatory cuts in Nevada and Arizona.
A vital reservoir on the Colorado River will be able to meet the demands of Mexico and the U.S. Southwest for the next 13 months, but a looming shortage could trigger cutbacks as soon as the end of 2019, officials said Wednesday.
Serious water shortages on the Colorado River could be less than two years away, according to new federal estimates. Yet after 19 years of drought, just 500 farmers in one Arizona county may decide the fate of the entire Southwest: By holding tight to their own temporary water supply, they could stall a conservation plan designed to save the entire region from water shortages.
Amy Haas recently became the first non-engineer and the first woman to serve as executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission in its 70-year history, putting her smack in the center of a host of daunting challenges facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.
Yet those challenges will be quite familiar to Haas, an attorney who for the past year has served as deputy director and general counsel of the commission. (She replaced longtime Executive Director Don Ostler). She has a long history of working within interstate Colorado River governance, including representing New Mexico as its Upper Colorado River commissioner and playing a central role in the negotiation of the recently signed U.S.-Mexico agreement known as Minute 323.
Arizona water users are starting work on an ambitious plan to lessen the impact of Colorado River water shortages. About 40 people recently were named to a committee that will meet for the first time Thursday.
For the first time in well over a year, a clear path exists for completion of Arizona’s share of a three-state drought plan for the Colorado River. The plan would step up already-approved requirements for cuts in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada and eventually California as Lake Mead drops below certain key levels.
Arizona water officials committed Thursday to reach a multi-state plan by the end of the year to stave off Colorado River water shortages, or at least lessen the impact. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been prodding Western states to wrap up drought contingency plans, one each in the lower and upper basins.
Water leaders in Arizona are again trying to get to “yes” on a deal that deals with drought. This would help prepare the state for future cuts to its water supply if — and likely when — Lake Mead drops below specific levels. A renewed effort to achieve an agreement comes after a year of anxiety and gridlock over the future of the Colorado River.
Reservoirs that store water along the Colorado River are projected to be less than half full later this year, potentially marking a historic low mark for the river system that supplies water to seven U.S. states and Mexico. Forecasters with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expect the river’s reservoirs — Lakes Mead and Powell among them — to be at a combined 48 percent of capacity by the end of September.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority says it has more than enough water to supply new homes and businesses that could be built one day on thousands of acres of federal land just outside the Las Vegas Valley. The challenge will be getting the water there and making sure it is used — and reused — as efficiently as possible, said water authority chief John Entsminger.
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.
Nowhere is the domino effect in Western water policy played out more than on the Colorado River, and specifically when it involves the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona. We are seeing that play out now as the three states strive to forge a Drought Contingency Plan. Yet that plan can’t be finalized until Arizona finds a unifying voice between its major water players, an effort you can read more about in the latest in-depth article of Western Water.
Even then, there are some issues to resolve just within California.
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 eight-minute video on YouTube highlights the history, scenery and science hikers encounter when they walk the nearly 4-mile trail, which follows the railroad route built in 1931 to ferry material and equipment from Boulder City to the Hoover Dam construction site.
A bruising battle between the Central Arizona Project and many states and water users has revitalized the push for a stillborn plan to prepare for more drought on the Colorado River. The original dustup was over whether the CAP was seeking to “game the system” of reservoir operations at lakes Mead and Powell to benefit itself at the expense of the river’s Upper Basin states: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.
The Colorado River has for years been locked in a pattern of chronic overuse, with much more water doled out to cities and farmlands than what’s flowing into its reservoirs. The river basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest 19-year periods in the past 1,200 years.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the [Colorado] river, released projections showing a 52 percent chance the river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada, will fall low enough in 2020 to trigger cutbacks under agreements governing the system. … The shortage projection prompted Bureau of Reclamation Chief Brenda Burman to prod the seven river states to finish long-delayed contingency plans for worsening conditions.
Anticipating years of drought, officials built the Yuma Desalting Plant in 1992 to treat agricultural runoff and conserve water in Lake Mead. Over the past 26 years, however, the plant has operated just three times while costing millions of dollars to maintain.
Now that the water level in Lake Mead has dropped — some 140 feet since the current drought began — St. Thomas is back on dry land, a ghost town that is gaining popularity among hikers and history buffs. … The story of St. Thomas is a cautionary tale of the scarcity of water in the Southwest and the vagaries of state boundaries during America’s westward expansion.
In early April, federal forecasters came out with a sobering but not surprising prediction for many Colorado River water users after a grim snowpack across much of the Colorado River basin this winter. They projected that as the snow melted and entered the Colorado River system, much less water would flow into Lake Powell this spring than is normal.
A top official from the Southern Nevada Water Authority is calling on states that rely on the Colorado River to resolve their differences before a growing dispute derails decades of cooperation on the river. … The fight comes as Nevada, Arizona and California continue work on a drought contingency plan aimed at keeping Lake Mead out of shortage by voluntarily leaving more water in the reservoir.
We explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.
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Elected officials and Southern Nevada Water Authority employees got a rare glimpse inside the community’s water supply safety net at Lake Mead on Saturday. For several hours in the morning, during a lull in construction activity, the authority opened its low-lake-level pumping station to tours.
CAP [Central Arizona Project] water, which comes from the Colorado River, will be less available to farmers in Central Arizona in the future. There are a few reasons for that. The first is the threat of a Lake Mead water shortage, which will be declared if the lake falls below 1,075 feet in elevation.
A dry winter for the region feeding the Colorado River means Lake Mead’s water level could drop, but not enough to trigger an emergency shortage declaration that would force water cutbacks in Nevada and Arizona.
Rangers at Lake Mead National Recreation Area are cracking down on two popular — but prohibited — spring break ingredients: glass bottles and Styrofoam containers. … The National Park Service outlawed glass bottles and plastic foam containers from the recreation area in 2002 to reduce litter and prevent injuries to visitors and wildlife, but the prohibition has been largely ignored.
For years, Colorado River states have been negotiating a plan to avoid the worst – a shortage in Lake Mead so bad it could trigger unprecedented cutbacks. With the region experiencing drought conditions since 2000, even California, which has senior rights, came to the negotiating table.
An already dry winter for the Colorado River has gotten worse in recent weeks, but it won’t be enough to send Lake Mead to a record low — at least not right away. Despite worsening conditions in the mountains that feed the Colorado, forecasters still expect the reservoir east of Las Vegas to contain just enough water by the end of the year to avoid a first-ever federal shortage declaration.
Arizona will be hardest hit if 17 years of drought keep drying up a reservoir serving much of the Southwest, but the state’s lawmakers and governor don’t agree on how to keep water in the lake or who should be in charge. Lake Mead, a man-made reservoir fed by the Colorado River, is an essential water supply for several western states that will take a hit if lake levels dip much lower.
According to the National Water and Climate Center’s forecast for the Rio Grande Basin, the water supply outlook for spring and summer remains “dire.” … And conditions on the Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead, don’t look good this year. The March forecast for the Colorado River Basin remains “well below average.”
Lake Mead National Recreation Area rose to sixth among the nation’s busiest parks in 2017 with almost 7.9 million visitors. It was Lake Mead’s highest total since 2003, and it helped propel the National Park Service to its second busiest year on record, according to statistics just released by the agency.
A formidable high-pressure ridge has settled off the West Coast, deflecting storms northward in much the same pattern observed in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and though scientists and policy experts debate the definition of “drought,” few would disagree that the American West is in the grip of another extraordinary dry spell.
The Colorado and the San Pedro rivers’ futures are on the line at the Legislature due to a controversial water bill. … But what’s not in the bill is also stirring conflict, particularly between the warring Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project.
Tickets are now on sale for the Water Education Foundation’s April 11-13 tour of the Lower Colorado River.
Don’t miss this opportunity to visit key sites along one of the nation’s most famous rivers, including a private tour of Hoover Dam, Central Arizona Project’s Mark Wilmer pumping plant and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. The tour also visits the Salton Sea, Slab City, the All-American Canal and farming regions in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.
For years now, Lake Mead’s so-called “bathtub ring” has been a sign of less water flowing into the reservoir. Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico rely on Lake Mead for their allotments from the Colorado River.
Lake Mead ends 2017 at elevation 1,082.5, almost two feet above last year at this time. Lake Powell ends the year at 3,623, up more than 20 feet from a year ago. Combined storage in the two primary Colorado River reservoirs ends the year up more than 2 million acre feet.
Rising temperatures from climate change are having a noticeable effect on how much water is flowing down the Colorado River. Read the latest River Report to learn more about what’s happening, and how water managers are responding.
This issue of Western Water discusses the challenges facing the Colorado River Basin resulting from persistent drought, climate change and an overallocated river, and how water managers and others are trying to face the future.
Explore the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour.
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In 2015, Albuquerque delivered as much water as it had in 1983, despite its population growing by 70 percent. In 2016, Tucson delivered as much water as it had in 1984, despite a 67 percent increase in customer hook-ups. The trend is the same for Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, said longtime water policy researcher Gary Woodard, who rattled off these statistics in a recent phone interview.
A newly signed pact between Mexico and the United States is believed to be the first time that two nations have agreed to allocate part of a shared water resource to the environment. Farmers and cities in both countries will reap benefits from Minute 323, an update to an existing agreement that seeks to sustainably manage the water of the overburdened Colorado River basin.
The U.S. and Mexican governments are close to signing a landmark Colorado River deal that will establish rules for sharing water over the next decade and lay out cooperative efforts intended to head off severe shortages. … The new accord – titled Minute No. 323 to the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty – outlines a series of measures that build on the countries’ current 5-year agreement, which expires at the end of this year.
The nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead on the Arizona/Nevada border and Lake Powell on the Arizona/Utah border, were brim full in the year 2000. Four short years later, they had lost enough water to supply California its legally apportioned share of Colorado River water for more than five years. Now, 17 years later, they still have not recovered.
A federal forecast of water levels at troubled Lake Mead took a big turn for the worse this week — a 20-foot drop in the lake’s expected January 2019 elevation. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s monthly prediction for Colorado River reservoir levels says the lake could drop to 1,076.53 feet by the end of 2018 or Jan. 1, 2019.
Hoover dam and the reservoir it created have had one public purpose since the 1930s, when they first tamed the Colorado River. And as the Depression’s engineering marvels aged into the 21st century, Lake Mead and its dam were still seen largely as the workhorses needed to send water and hydroelectricity around the Southwest. But in the last 15 years, things have changed.
In Arizona, water scarcity is like the background hum of conversation in a popular restaurant: unrelenting. But even in this desert state, the ever-present strain on water supplies could soon be felt more acutely. As soon as 2019, the water level in Lake Mead on the Colorado River could drop below an elevation of 1,075 feet. That will trigger mandatory cutbacks in water diversions from the reservoir under an agreement negotiated between the federal government and three lower-basin states that rely on the river: Arizona, California and Nevada.
Tens of thousands of rafters paddle down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park each year, though most don’t scan the Redwall Limestone canyon sides for bore holes around River Mile 39. But one group of rafters that launched in mid-March was keen to see those holes and the ashy looking sediment piled beneath them. The holes mark the exploratory tinkering of those who were itching to build another dam on the Colorado decades ago.
Officials in Arizona have reached an impasse on a multistate agreement aimed at storing more Colorado River water in Lake Mead, but Southern Nevada Water Authority chief John Entsminger said he is confident the deal will still get done.
Arizona would be the first state to feel the effects of Colorado River cutbacks if the water level continues to fall at drought-stricken Lake Mead, an environmental advocacy group says in a new report. The Western Resource Advocates reached its conclusion as the vast reservoir behind Hoover Dam sits at 39 percent of capacity.
A troublesome invasive species is the quagga mussel, a tiny freshwater mollusk that attaches itself to water utility infrastructure and reproduces at a rapid rate, causing damage to pipes and pumps.
First found in the Great Lakes in 1988 (dumped with ballast water from overseas ships), the quagga mussel along with the zebra mussel are native to the rivers and lakes of eastern Europe and western Asia, including the Black, Caspian and Azov Seas and the Dneiper River drainage of Ukraine and Ponto-Caspian Sea.
[Arizona] Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke is meeting with other Colorado River system users in Las Vegas at the annual Colorado River Water User Association Conference running through Dec. 16. … On Dec. 15, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will unveil the program for management of the Colorado River between Lakes Powell and Mead.
Business as usual on the Colorado River may be about to come to a screeching halt. One of the worst recorded droughts in human history has stretched water supplies thin across the far-reaching river basin, which serves 40 million people. … With an official water shortage imminent, Arizona, Nevada and California are taking matters into their own hands.
Already dealing with parched conditions, the U.S. Southwest faces the threat of megadroughts this century as temperatures rise, says a new study that found the risk is reduced if heat-trapping gases are curbed.
With Lake Mead receding year after year and the threat of a shortage looming, the overallocated Colorado River seems to be approaching a breaking point. But John Fleck argues this crisis doesn’t necessarily mean we’re headed for a future in which conflicts flare and communities run dry.
A resolute effort in Arizona, California, and Nevada to reduce Colorado River water use is slowing the decline of Lake Mead and delaying mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from the drying basin. … The August analysis of the basin’s hydrology, an assessment carried out every month by the Bureau of Reclamation, concluded that the water level in Lake Mead will be above 1,075 feet in elevation next January.
Three years of conservation efforts around the Southwest have prevented a water shortage in Lake Mead for at least another year. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced projections for the Colorado River reservoir’s Jan. 1 water level, and it rises above the elevation at which downstream users must restrict their water diversions.
Amid punishing drought, federal water managers projected Tuesday that — by a very narrow margin — the crucial Lake Mead reservoir on the Colorado River won’t have enough water to make full deliveries to Nevada and Arizona in 2018.
Tribes are apprehensive, cities are more upbeat and farmers stand somewhere in between over a proposed plan to cut CAP water deliveries to keep Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels. … The drought-contingency plan is being discussed by Arizona, California and Nevada as a way to avert catastrophic cuts later.
Twenty-six million people in California, Nevada and Arizona rely on the Colorado River, but this magnificent source of water that carved a continent is drying up. … The thermometer of the river’s health is Lake Mead — the lake formed behind Hoover Dam.
When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced last month that the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, had fallen to its lowest-ever level at 1,074ft (327m), the question many asked was: How will it affect one of California’s primary drinking sources? … Falling water levels are the result of a drought in the Colorado River Basin that has dragged on for 16 years and counting.
Earlier this week, I [Brad Plumer] wrote about how Lake Mead, America’s largest man-made reservoir, has shrunk to its lowest level ever. … Now NASA’s Earth Observatory has posted two satellite images that show the dramatic decline of Lake Mead between 2000 and 2015.
When California officials announced an end to restrictions on urban water use last week, they cited the recent wet winter as one reason. El Niño, the climate pattern that brought a succession of storms to Northern California, had given the state a reprieve from its water woes, they said.
Six years ago, at the end of the summer of 2010, federal Bureau of Reclamation officials worried that Hoover Dam, the biggest hydropower enterprise in the Southwest, might soon go dark. Water levels in Lake Mead, the dam’s energy source, were falling, and Hoover was moving “into uncharted territory,” the facility manager told Circle of Blue. Today, the story has a twist.
Nervous investors, concerned about their nest eggs, will check the financial markets. Is the New York Stock Exchange up? What direction is the NASDAQ moving? For people living in the American Southwest, water levels in reservoirs play the same role.
The surface level at Lake Mead has dropped as planned to historic low levels, and federal water managers said Thursday the vast Colorado River reservoir is expected to continue to shrink amid ongoing drought.
Because the Imperial Irrigation District holds the single largest entitlement to water from the [Colorado] river, its participation would be vital in any agreement for California to share in water cutbacks to avert a looming shortage in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. But major hurdles remain for the district to support a potential deal, and the reasons begin with the shrinking Salton Sea.
With the Colorado River tapped beyond its limits and the level of Lake Mead in decline, representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada say they’ve been making progress in negotiating an agreement for all three states to share in water cutbacks in order to stave off a more severe shortage.
Arizona, California and Nevada negotiators are moving toward a major agreement triggering cuts in Colorado River water deliveries to Southern and Central Arizona to avert much more severe cuts in the future. As state water officials now envision the agreement, it would also ultimately require California to cut its use of river water.
Arizona and California are arguing over Colorado River water again — this time over whether it should be inscribed in law that California can’t take Arizona’s share of river water that’s left in Lake Mead to prop up lake levels.
For the past five years, as the drought drained California’s water sources and depleted its reservoirs, Southern California water managers have relied increasingly on the region’s largest out-of-state water source: the Colorado River.
For the second time in a decade, the feds are warning that if water interests in Arizona, California and Nevada can’t find a fix for the Colorado River’s problems, the interior secretary will find it for them.
The intake was unplugged Wednesday to finish flooding an $817 million tunnel and complete a complicated and perilous “Third Straw” project to draw drinking water for Las Vegas from a shrinking Lake Mead.
With Lake Mead’s elevation hovering just three feet above a critical threshold that would trigger mandatory cuts in water supplies, Colorado River watchers are anxiously awaiting new projections from the Bureau of Reclamation due out Monday that will guide operations on the drought-stricken system for the next year.
Water officials insist a pilot program designed to save Colorado River water and boost Lake Mead and Lake Powell is off to such a promising start that they are already looking to pour more money into it.
In a move that’s prompting questions about the stockpiling of weapons by the federal government’s nonmilitary agencies, the Bureau of Reclamation wants to buy 52,000 rounds of ammunition for use in law enforcement at Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.
Three U.S. water agencies have joined forces with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, paying $18 million toward the lining of a 10-mile stretch of the canal. In exchange, they will be receiving 124,000 acre-feet of water being stored by Mexico at Lake Mead.
Bruce Nelson was just a baby when Lake Mead was at its mightiest. That was 1983 — ancient history to the 32-year-old whose family has run marinas here for three generations — when the lake gushed over Hoover Dam like a desert Niagara Falls.
It took $817 million, two starts, more than six years and one worker’s life to drill a so-called “Third Straw” to make sure glittery casinos and sprawling suburbs of Las Vegas can keep getting drinking water from near the bottom of drought-stricken Lake Mead.
A 24-month look ahead by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said the surface level of the largest Colorado River reservoir should remain above a benchmark level used to determine if full deliveries will be made in a seven-state region home to about 40 million residents, farms, tribes and businesses.
The decline of Lake Mead to a water level not seen in nearly eight decades, or since the giant reservoir was still filling behind the just-completed Hoover Dam, is more than a visual reminder of the severity of the drought.
For California, Arizona and Nevada, which draw water from [Lake] Mead, a grim situation is about to get worse: Officials estimate that Mead will drop to the unprecedented low elevation of 1,073 feet as the hottest summer months bear down, with less snowpack in the Rocky Mountains to recharge the Colorado River.
Compared to California, things are better in the Colorado River Basin. However, after 15 years of drought, Lake Powell and Lake Mead are both below 45 percent full with basinwide snowpack below 70 percent as of April 1.
On an island at Lake Mead that stopped being an island more than a decade ago, the Southern Nevada Water Authority is about to launch the next phase of a 12-year building binge expected to last until 2020 and cost almost $1.5 billion.
If and when Lake Mead hits 1,075 feet, the government will declare a federal water shortage for the seven states that draw water from the Colorado River, forcing Nevada and the others to limit water use. … Despite the sobering predictions, former Las Vegas water czar Pat Mulroy is confident life will go on in the West.
For 56 days last spring, a unique pulse of water drawn from Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead coursed into Mexico to the Colorado River’s parched delta – once an ecological emerald set in the tawny expanse of the Sonoran Desert.
With a 14-year drought in the Colorado River basin showing few signs of breaking, states along the river’s path are taking new steps this month to ensure that Lake Mead — the Colorado River reservoir that is the water source for much of the Southwest — does not fail them.
The “Eagle has landed” moment came at the start of Wednesday’s Southern Nevada Water Authority board meeting, when engineering director Marc Jensen stood to announce what many people in the room were already buzzing about.
Lake Mead’s infamous bathtub ring has been there so long it no longer shocks the sensibilities. … But, all things considered, Las Vegas Valley Water District General Manager John Entsminger is feeling pretty good these days.
This 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, illustrates the water resources available for Nevada cities, agriculture and the environment. It features natural and manmade water resources throughout the state, including the Truckee and Carson rivers, Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake and the course of the Colorado River that forms the state’s eastern boundary.
Water as a renewable resource is depicted in this 18×24 inch poster. Water is renewed again and again by the natural hydrologic cycle where water evaporates, transpires from plants, rises to form clouds, and returns to the earth as precipitation. Excellent for elementary school classroom use.
Redesigned in 2017, this beautiful map depicts the seven Western states that share the Colorado River with Mexico. The Colorado River supplies water to nearly 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the country of Mexico. Text on this beautiful, 24×36-inch map, which is suitable for framing, explains the river’s apportionment, history and the need to adapt its management for urban growth and expected climate change impacts.
The Colorado River provides water to more than 35 million people and 4 million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000 square miles in the southwestern United States. The 32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the history of the river’s development; negotiations over division of its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and a chronology of significant Colorado River events.
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts – including federally, state and locally funded projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects, wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado River.
Lake Mead is the main reservoir formed by Hoover Dam in Southern Nevada.
Created in the 1930s as part of Hoover Dam [see also Elwood Mead], Lake Mead provides water storage in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River. The reservoir can hold 28,945,000 acre-feet’s capacity and at 248 square miles its capacity is the largest in United States.
Most of the water in Lake Mead is drawn from Rocky Mountain snowmelt and runoff.
This printed issue of Western Water examines how the various stakeholders have begun working together to meet the planning challenges for the Colorado River Basin, including agreements with Mexico, increased use of conservation and water marketing, and the goal of accomplishing binational environmental restoration and water-sharing programs.
This printed issue of Western Water explores the historic nature of some of the key agreements in recent years, future challenges, and what leading state representatives identify as potential “worst-case scenarios.” Much of the content for this issue of Western Water came from the in-depth panel discussions at the Colorado River Symposium. The Foundation will publish the full proceedings of the Symposium in 2012.
This printed issue of Western Water examines the Colorado River drought, and the ongoing institutional and operational changes underway to maintain the system and meet the future challenges in the Colorado River Basin.
This printed issue of Western Water explores some of the major challenges facing Colorado River stakeholders: preparing for climate change, forging U.S.-Mexico water supply solutions and dealing with continued growth in the basins states. Much of the content for this issue of Western Water came from the in-depth panel discussions at the September 2009 Colorado River Symposium.
With interstate discussions of critical Colorado River issues seemingly headed for stalemate, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton stepped in May 2 to defuse, or at least defer, a potentially divisive debate over water releases from Lake Powell.