(Phoenix, January 19, 2016) Western Resources Advocates (WRA) released a new analysis today that shows Central Arizona’s cities, suburban growth in significant areas, and agriculture face substantial  cuts in Colorado River water supplies if Lake Mead levels continue to fall. Analysis of data from the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and Central Arizona Project (CAP) identifies who could face a reduction of Colorado River supplies, and at what level, within Arizona as Lake Mead levels continue to drop.

The report, Arizona’s Water Future: Colorado River Shortage, Innovative Solutions, Living Well with Less, finds:

  • Phoenix and Tucson suburban growth that uses the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District to prove there is renewable water to cover development will be cut first in a shortage declaration under existing agreements;
  • Four important Central Arizona Irrigation Districts could also lose a substantial portion of their CAP water, including Maricopa Stanfield, Central Arizona, Hohokam, and Harquahala; and
  • Major cities, including Phoenix and Tucson, could face a reduction of Colorado River supplies within this decade if Lake Mead drops below the 1,025’ level.

These cuts are looming because Arizona’s ”bank” for 40% of its water supply, Lake Mead, is being drained faster than it can be filled. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a nearly 50% chance of a federal shortage declaration, that would cut 320,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water deliveries to Arizona, happening as soon as 2018 under business as usual. This level of cuts could harm agriculture, lead to over-drafting of nonrenewable groundwater, reduce hydroelectric power, and provide a lot less water for Arizona cities and the environment.

“Arizona is facing perhaps its greatest challenge since the settlement of the region and development of modern cities, agriculture, and industry,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager, Western Resource Advocates. “The time is now for ADWR and CAP to put in place longer-term solutions that prevent significant water shortages and stand the test of time. One cannot put Band-Aids on an ill patient, while failing to address the underlying illness.”

Arizona has already taken important action by implementing interim measures to keep more water in Lake Mead to help stave off federally mandated cutbacks of Colorado River water. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has also been working with California, Nevada, and key water users within Arizona on plans to keep Lake Mead from falling to critically low levels.

Linda Stitzer, Arizona Senior Water Policy Advisor, Western Resource Advocates, added, “Past efforts and current drought contingency planning are an important start, but we cannot delay in implementing long-term solutions that will protect our agriculture, cities, tribes, environment and economy.”

Western Resource Advocates and conservation partners at American Rivers and Environmental Defense Fund have developed seven policies and actions to protect groundwater and help Arizona’s agriculture, cities, Indian tribes, economy, and environment thrive in a future with less Colorado River water supplies.

Three of the seven proposed policies and actions are:

  • Water providers and farmers, with support from ADWR, should adopt next-generation water conservation and efficiencyfor our homes, business and agriculture.
  • The Central Arizona Project should expand its support of system conservation programs allowing municipalities and other water users to dedicate conserved water to stay in Lake Mead to prevent water levels from dropping farther.
  • Water providers, cities and agriculture, with support from CAP and ADWR, should increase the number of innovative water sharing arrangements between themselves,like the Phoenix-Tucson water sharing agreement.

“System Conservation Programs have proven to be a great success along the Colorado River, putting more water into Lake Mead and keeping the lake from falling to drastically low levels,” said Jeff Odefey, Director, Clean Water Supply, American Rivers. “Innovative water sharing agreements, like that between Phoenix and Tucson, are an ideal example other water interests should adopt, demonstrating the collaboration and flexibility we will need to stabilize Lake Mead levels for the long term.”

“We are all in this together in the Colorado River basin. ADWR is on the right track with increasing the level of collaboration and proactive actions with all Arizona water stakeholders. Now ADWR and stakeholders need to also adopt longer-term solutions,” said Kevin Moran, Senior Director, Colorado River Program, Environmental Defense Fund. “In the end, the strategy which has served Arizona and the Lower Basin states the most is to focus on collaboration and ongoing water management innovation that benefit both current and future generations.”

The two-page Arizona’s Water Future Executive Summary is downloadable here and the thirty-page full report is downloadable here.

Image: Shutterstock

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