“More than a dozen years of drought have begun to extract a heavy toll from water supplies in the West, where a report released last week forecast dramatic cuts next year in releases between the two main reservoirs on the Colorado River, the primary source of water for tens of millions of people across seven western states.
“After studying the problems facing the river for the past two years, the U.S.
“On Aug. 7, the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority called for federal disaster relief to address the consequences of water scarcity in the Colorado River system. On Friday, the Bureau of Reclamation announced it would be forced to cut the flow of water into Lake Mead in 2014 to a historic low.
“As part of its ongoing management of Colorado River reservoirs, the Bureau of Reclamation has determined that, based on the best available data projections of Lake Powell and Lake Mead reservoir elevations, under the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (2007 Interim Guidelines), a release of 7.48 million acre-feet from Lake Powell is required in water year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013-Sept.
“On the same day federal officials were expected to decide for the first time to curtail water releases from Lake Powell to states further down the Colorado River, local leaders were gathering in St. George to hear a proposal for an alternative to building a pipeline that would take water from the same lake to supply southwestern Utah.”
“After back-to-back driest years in a century on the Colorado River, federal water managers are giving Arizona and Nevada a 50-50 chance of having their water deliveries cut in 2016, unless the Rocky Mountains get more winter snow than in recent years.
“A soon-to-be-published report by the Bureau of Reclamation may reduce the amount of water released from Lake Powell and increase the likelihood of a Colorado River water shortage declaration.
“The Bureau of Reclamation’s 24-month Study Reports utilize hydrologic data from the National Weather Service to project operations of the Colorado River’s system of reservoirs over a two-year period. Additionally, the August report will explain how much water is released from Lake Powell over the next water year.
“Across the West, changes in the climate are taking a toll. Almost 87% of the region is in a drought. … With water supplies at the breaking point and no relief in sight, a domino-effect water war has broken out, which might be a harbinger of the West’s future.”
“The Imperial Irrigation District’s recently adopted water apportionment plan is being challenged in court. …
“The Imperial Irrigation District adopted its Equitable Distribution Plan to help it repay the more than 200,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water it ordered above its allocation over a two-year period.
“The nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer has been deemed legal and valid, closing another chapter in a decade-long dispute over rights to Colorado River water that is crucial to California, six other states and Mexico.
“Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly ruled Wednesday that the Imperial Irrigation District was in compliance with state environmental regulations and had the authority to enter into the landmark Quantification Settlement Agreement.”
“In the winter of 1983, the largest El Niño event on record—a chain of “superstorms” that swept in from the Pacific Ocean—battered the entire West. That spring, a massive snowmelt sent runoff racing down the Colorado River toward the Glen Canyon Dam, a 710-foot-high wall of concrete that sat at the head of the most iconic landscape feature in America, the Grand Canyon.
“The draft Bay-Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) was recently released, which is the state’s strategy for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Bay Delta system that aims to ensure a more reliable water supply and a healthy ecosystem. Of note, many environmental groups have raised concerns over the draft BDCP and have provided counter-proposals. The Colorado River provides roughly the same amount of water for urban Southern California as does the Bay-Delta, and both systems are under intense pressures.
From the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA):
“The Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on July 16 to consider the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.
“The panelists, who consisted of federal, state, and local officials as well as conservationists, were in agreement that demand for water will overtake supply in the coming decades unless action is taken.
“Government officials are urging Congress to consider solutions to deal with possible water shortages in the Colorado River basin that could include finding ways to reduce demand, conservation and better management of water supplies.
From the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region website:
Michael L. Connor, commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior, testified July 16 before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water and Power on the “Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.”
An excerpt from his statement: “Today the Colorado River is facing a record drought. The period from 2000 to 2013 is shaping up to be the lowest 14-year period in the over 100-year historical record for the Colorado River.
“A judge in the coordinated Quantification Settlement Agreement lawsuits denied a request for another 90-day stay of his final decision of the decade-long lawsuits, setting back the Imperial Irrigation District’s attempt to settle the cases with all parties involved.”