We have been writing about it for years, the cataclysmic undoing that will occur someday when there is not enough water in the Colorado River to meet the needs of the 40 million Americans who rely on it for their drinking water and irrigation. Now someday is here.
According to the Daily Beast, the US government has declared a shortage of water on the Colorado River system for the first time in history. That declaration will trigger mandatory water cuts at Lake Mead that will primarily impact Arizona farmers. “As this inexorable seeming decline in the supply continues, the shortages that we’re beginning to see implemented are only going to increase,” says Jennifer Pitt, director of the Colorado River program. “Once we’re on that train, it’s not clear where it stops.”
So far, the shortage only affects lower basin states such as California, Nevada, and Arizona but shortages in upper basin states such as Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico could happen as soon as next year. Lake Mead typically holds nearly 30 million acre-feet of water but currently has less than half of that because of the extended drought in the American Southwest. “The river is in uncharted territory,” says Kevin Moran, senior director of the Colorado River Program, adding that much of the river’s decline is due to climate change.
CNBC reports the Bureau of Reclamation will impose cuts in the water supplied from the Colorado River to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico beginning in January. Arizona will take the biggest hit, with about 18% of the state’s annual apportionment set to be eliminated. Phoenix is the fastest growing city in America according to the latest census data and will be directly affected by the reduced water supply.
Earlier this summer, reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin dropped to their lowest levels on record following 22 consecutive years of drought. In just five years, Lake Mead and Lake Powell have lost 50% of their capacity. Officials expect water level in Lake Mead to be 1,066 feet by January 1. That is about nine feet below the 1,075 foot level that triggers cuts in water supply. Lake Mead was created by the construction of Hoover Dam between 1931 and 1936 and has more than 750 miles of shoreline. Arizona was the last state to tap into the Colorado River, and so it is the first to feel the pinch of reduced water supplies.
Government officials say additional actions will “likely be necessary in the very near future” as the situation worsens. More than 98% of the Western U.S. is currently in a drought, with 64% under extreme drought conditions, says CNBC.
“We are seeing the effects of climate change in the Colorado River Basin through extended drought, extreme temperatures, expansive wildfires, and in some places flooding and landslides, and now is the time to take action to respond to them,” says Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior.
Raging forest fires sweep across the land. 20 year droughts go on and on. And still the federal government provides hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to fossil fuel companies. Reactionaries in Washington continue to kowtow to the fossil fuel benefactors. Oil and gas companies keep marching to the tune of “Drill, baby, drill” even though their activities endanger every human on Earth and those as yet unborn. Maybe Thelma and Louise had the right idea after all.