Lake Mead Drought Hitting Crisis Situation

Published by The Bee News

September 16, 2022

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Lake Havasu City, AZ – Supervisor Buster Johnson attended the Arizona Capitol Time’s online webinar called the Morning Scope this past week where they discussed the ongoing water issues facing the Southwest. This was a follow up discussion with water experts from around the State that occurred back in May. “Hearing the discussion today was like night and day compared to what was said 4 months ago. Back in May, the panelists kept using the word “if” when they referred to our continuing drought situation.

Today it was made very clear that we are entering or already are in a crisis,” Johnson stated. While Johnson feels a lot of the information presented during the webinar was a bit depressing, there was some solutions that were discussed and optimism that we can all come together in time to save the drying Colorado River basin. Arizona Department of Water Resource’s Director, Tom Buschatzke, spoke during the webinar on what doing nothing will do to the lower basin states. “We have heard a lot lately on, if Lake Mead or Powell reaches dead pool, that we won’t be able to produce electricity through hydrogen power; however, very few are talking about what happens if the water flow from Glen Canyon to Lake Mead stops,” Supervisor Johnson said. During the webinar, Director Buschatzke had his background photo set to show the Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon. If water flows below the existing bypass at Lake Mead, it will trap 2 million acre-feet of water behind the dam, effectively drying up the Grand Canyon. Two million acre-feet is nearly two-thirds of what Arizona would normally take from the Colorado River in a year.

Last month the United States Bureau of Reclamation announced a Tier 2a shortage condition for the first time. The declaration triggered an automatic 592,000 acre-feet cut for Arizona, or approximately 21% of the state’s yearly allotment of river water.
According to Ted Cooke, General Manager of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), Arizona is voluntarily cutting even more than that and will end up cutting around 800,000 acre-feet next year. The federal government however has told states that another 2-4 million acre-feet need to be cut on top of the 2a cuts to avoid further declines. “There are too many people and just not enough water to go around,” Supervisor Johnson stated. The federal government gave states till August to come up with a plan for additional cuts or face the federal government intervening and forcing the cuts, but August has come and gone, and the federal government hasn’t announced a new deadline or mandated cuts.

Both ADWR Director Buschatzke and CAP Director Cooke stated during the webinar that they would like to see the federal government step in and do something. “Asking us to cut another 2–4-million-acre feet is asking us to quadruple the cuts we have already made, but at the same time we have to make these cuts. I was surprised to hear State officials welcoming the federal government in to do the job we should be doing; however, it seems the only way to force these additional cuts is to strictly mandate them,” Johnson explained. While the webinar at times painted a gloomy picture for Arizona and many other states that rely on the Colorado River, there are solutions being discussed and a huge stack of money ready to be spent on those solutions. One of the solutions mentioned was building a desalination plant with Mexico. Director Buschatzke was optimistic that a deal with Mexico and construction of the plant could produce results within eight to ten years.

Another solution was building a pipeline to pipe water from a new water source to the Phoenix area. Joe Gysel, with EPCOR Water, cautioned that such a solution would be costly and timely. “While it’s possible, projects like these take years to plan, years to
build and billions of dollars,” Gysel stated. The federal government through the Inflation Reduction Act allocated $4 billion to Arizona towards drought solutions. Arizona lawmakers have also put in another $1.2 billion and another $30 million for drip irrigation solutions. Short term solutions include using the Central Arizona Project to move small amounts of water from other areas in the state, to offset surface water with groundwater and to use up storage credits the State has been banking for years. While all of these may help extend the crisis by 1-3 years, they are not long-term solutions. “The Colorado River is in crisis mode, and we are all going to have to come together and find some out of the box solutions to benefit everyone,” Johnson said. “The State has a large money coffin and ideas, let’s just hope at the end of the day, we are better off because of it,” Johnson ended.

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