Excerpt: More than century of planning has brought Arizona to this point, starting with the Salt River Project and decades of arduous negotiations that led to a supply of Colorado River water. So have the landmark Groundwater Management Act of 1980 and a system of banking some of the state's Colorado River allotment in aquifers.
Excerpt: If the Colorado River's flow continues to suffer, the U.S. Department of the Interior could declare a shortage as early as 2017. Under the agreement that established the CAP, Arizona's rights to the Colorado would take a hit before California loses a drop, triggering conservation steps that include reducing delivery to irrigated farms that use the majority of Arizona's water supply.
Excerpt: "When Arizonans can unquestionably turn on the tap and get water without question, we're doing our job," she said. "We don't want our customers to have to think about whether there will be water or not."
As for Prescott, the plans to import water have stalled - some believe because of a ballot measure limiting capital outlay to $40 million-voter-approved pieces, while others say it comes down to agreements with SRP or mitigating impacts on the Verde River, among other challenges.
Excerpt: Farmers, cities and power plant operators could soon be paid to cut their use of the Colorado River under a new interstate program aimed at keeping more water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
The four largest communities fed by the Colorado plan to pour millions of dollars into a fund to help farmers and industrial operations pay for efficiency improvements and conservation measures to cut their river water use.
Excerpt: The water authority board signed off on the conservation concept — and the $2 million — on April 17. Entsminger hopes to see a final agreement among the agencies and the federal government within a month or so. The first conservation projects could be funded as early as this fall, he said.
Excerpt: “We’re right on the verge of having to extend all of our launch ramps, but we expect to be able to get through this summer,” Vanover said. “It’s important for people to know that no matter what happens there will still be access to Lake Mead.”
Excerpt: Water use in Kingman and Golden Valley is outstripping supply, according to hydrologists with the U.S. Geological Survey.
Excerpt: Annual water demand in Golden Valley from the Sacramento Valley Basin exceeded yearly supplies by about 2,400 acre-feet, and annual water demands in Kingman from the Hualapai Basin exceeded yearly supplies by about 5,600 acre-feet, said a USGS report presented to the Mohave County Board of Supervisors Monday.
Excerpt: The onus to resolving the county's water issue rests with the Board of Supervisors, said state Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, who attended Monday's meeting.
Excerpt: The board tasked County Supervisor Mike Hendrix to work with the U.S. Geological Survey to determine what that additional study would specifically require, and to present his findings to the board at a later date.
Excerpt: The four largest cities that get their drinking water from the Colorado River are gearing up to pilot an innovative conservation scheme that pays farmers, industries and municipalities to reduce their use of the river’s water.
Excerpt: The fund would pay for voluntary reductions in water use – whether by fallowing farm fields, installing more efficient irrigation systems, recycling industrial supplies, or other means– but the savings would benefit the basin as a whole by increasing reservoir storage and thereby mitigating shortages.
Excerpt: By collaboratively creating an incentive for basin-wide conservation, the big four urban water users and the Bureau of Reclamation have an opportunity to bring more resilience and adaptability to the drought-stricken, overtapped Colorado River.
Excerpt: Economists from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business estimated the economic impact of CAP’s 336-mile canal system on the state’s economy. They found a $100 billion annual economic benefit from the river water. The canals provide water supplies to Phoenix and other areas of the state. Without the canals, the Valley would not be able sustain itself or grow. Farms, industrial users — such as semiconductor manufacturers — as well as household users all benefit from the river water.
“Preserving this vital resource is foremost in our minds. The Colorado River is experiencing long-term drought and CAP’s focus is to continue to work diligently with our customers and stakeholders to ensure this resource is available to support the future of our state and Southwest region,” said CAP General Manager David Modeer.
Excerpt: Future droughts and a warming climate change could spell trouble for the city's 2 million residents — and its 40 million annual visitors. Those people "better hope nothing goes wrong with the last intake," said water authority spokesman J.C. Davis.
"But if something does go wrong," he added, "we're in the business of making contingency plans."
For officials here, the scenario signifies a formidable job: providing water for the nation's driest city. Las Vegas uses more water per capita than most communities in America — 219 gallons of water per person every day — and charges less for it than many communities.
Excerpt: John Entsminger, the water authority's new general manager, says such seemingly careless spectacles as the elaborate fountains at the Bellagio resort feature recycled water. "The Strip uses only 3% of the region's water but supplies 70% of its economy," he said. "That's not a bad bargain."
Excerpt: Entsminger, the head of the water authority, believes the American Southwest must fight its water crisis together. He said the seven states drawing water from the Colorado River collectively form the world's fifth-largest economy — just behind Germany but ahead of France and Britain.
Excerpt: Now that bounty is threatened by a crisis of geological proportions: The land is sinking – crippling the region’s irrigation and flood control infrastructure and damaging aquifers that are buffers against climate change.
Nature, though, is not to blame. This problem is self-inflicted, driven by the frontier-style exploitation of the last unregulated resource in California: groundwater.
Excerpt: Today’s drama is only the latest chapter in a long-running saga of sinking. Three generations ago, so much groundwater was pumped from aquifers that half the valley sank like a giant pie crust, sagging 28 feet near Mendota and inflicting damage to irrigation canals, pipelines, bridges, roads and other infrastructure.
Excerpt: “Obviously, nobody wants to be regulated any more than we are,” Michael said. “But I think maybe we have to have somebody step in. People are probably going to be upset that I would say something like that. We have to find ways to protect the resource that we have.
“There are all kinds of surface regulations (for water) and you’ve got this Wild West underneath the ground. The chickens are coming home to roost, unfortunately,” Michael said.
Excerpt: The severe risks of an extended drought in the Colorado River Basin – a shutdown of hydropower generation, functionally empty lakes, and restrictions on water use – are forcing the basin’s seven states to consider unprecedented changes in how they manage a scarce resource.
Excerpt: “We’ve never had to do this before because we never planned for this degree of low water storage,” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an administrative body, told Circle of Blue. “We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen.”
Excerpt: “We’re certainly having discussions about existing drought and contingency planning for an ongoing sustained drought,” said Colby Pellegrino, who handles Colorado River issues for Southern Nevada Water Authority, the state’s largest water utility. “But we’re not to a point where we can say what those options will be.”
Excerpt: More than century of planning has brought Arizona to this point, starting with the Salt River Project and decades of arduous negotiations that led to a supply of Colorado River water. So have the landmark Groundwater Management Act of 1980 and a system of banking some of the state’s Colorado River allotment in aquifers.
Excerpt: In January, an Arizona Department of Water Resources report pointed to the potential for a long-term imbalance between available water and demands over the next century. It said that Arizona will need to develop additional water supplies over the next 25 to 100 years to keep pace with growth.
Excerpt: “What we need right now is a deeper understanding by policymakers about what our situation is,” he said. “I want someone who will look at the complex solutions, not the short easy ones.”
Pickard, the CAP board president, said this election year will test which politicians are ready to make Arizona’s water future a priority.
“When Arizonans can unquestionably turn on the tap and get water without question, we’re doing our job,” she said. “We don’t want our customers to have to think about whether there will be water or not.”
Excerpt: For half a century, the Colorado River’s great dams and the 30 million people who siphon water from the reservoirs behind them have effectively killed the river at Morelos Dam, west of Yuma.
Excerpt: “The river has provided to us — to humans — for many years the water to grow our crops, our food,” said Francisco Zamora, who leads the Sonoran Institute’s efforts to restore the lost forests of the delta. The Tucson nonprofit works on landscape conservation and quality-of-life issues in the West.
An eight-week flood began Sunday with the opening of a gate at Morelos Dam, which normally sends the river sideways into a Mexican canal. It will be a watershed moment for cross-border cooperation on the environment and on an increasingly pinched water supply.
Excerpt: Punishing drought in California could force that state to make a sizable withdrawal from a virtual water bank in Lake Mead this year, even as the reservoir shrinks closer to an all-time low and an unprecedented shortage declaration.
Excerpt: “Things are so bad in California, unless it starts raining like crazy we are probably going to take another 150,000 to 200,000 acre-feet this year,” said Bill Hasencamp, Metropolitan’s manager of Colorado River resources.
Excerpt: “As soon as it gets wet again in California, we’ll start storing water and putting it in Lake Mead,” Muir said.
Hasencamp said 2011 and 2012 were “big storage years” for Met, with a total of about 330,000 acre-feet of water socked away in the lake.
“We were hoping we could keep that in there,” he said. “But we’re still keeping an account balance. We’re not taking it all out.”
Excerpt: The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.
Excerpt: But many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished.
Excerpt: These new realities are forcing a profound reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest’s only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Agriculture, from California’s Imperial Valley to Wyoming’s cattle herds, soaks up about three-quarters of its water, and produces 15 percent of the nation’s food. But 40 million people also depend on the river and its tributaries, and their numbers are rising rapidly.
Excerpt: There's a better than 50 percent chance of an official water shortage being declared in 2016 for the Lower Colorado River Basin as a result of the drought that has gripped the river's watershed for the last 14 years.
Excerpt: That's if the current trend continues, Daniel Bunk, a hydrologist for the Lower Colorado Region with the the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, told the Colorado River Citizens Forum Wednesday during an update on the status of the Colorado River Basin.
He noted that 2000 to 2013 was the driest 14-year period in more than 100 years of historical record. And based on tree ring studies, it is the fourth or fifth driest period in the past 1,200 years.
Excerpt: If a shortage is declared by the Secretary of the Interior, Arizona would bear by far the biggest impact, according to an agreement in 2007 that established shortage sharing guidelines. Under the guidelines, Arizona, which is allocated 2.8 million acre-feet of Colorado River water a year, would receive 320,000 acre-feet less water. Nevada would receive 13,000 acre-feet less water and Mexico 50,000 acre-feet less. California would not be impacted.
Excerpt: Population growth, drought and increasing demand are challenging the Colorado River and threatening Western economies and outdoor lifestyles.
"In order to meet those challenges, we have to acknowledge that the current management and current use of the river is unsustainable. We've got to start from that point," said Udall, addressing the first Business of Water Corporate Leaders Summit in Denver, hosted by Protect the Flows, a network of almost 1,000 businesses advocating for protection of the 1,450-mile river.
Excerpt: Every speaker offered concrete strategies for not just protecting water but educating consumers on its value. George Wendt urges the 3,000 people a year who float his OARS rafts down the Colorado River to support conservation. Broomfield's WhiteWave Foods makes sure consumers know its plant-based drinks require 77 percent less water per half gallon than cow milk. MGM Resorts International is fighting to include water conservation in energy-saving metrics that often focus only on reducing carbon impact.
Excerpt: "Conserving the great outdoors is a long-term investment in jobs that can't be outsourced," said Udall, who suggested that a balance between increased conservation and wastewater treatment, expanding storage and recharging groundwater supplies would alleviate pressure on the Colorado River.
Excerpt: After 14 years of record drought, it will take an unusually wet year — one like the basin saw in 2011 — to stave off the first-ever water shortages on the overdrawn river and slow the decline of its two main reservoirs.
Lake Mead, the source for 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s water supply, has seen its surface fall by more than 100 feet since the drought began. Current projections call for it to lose another 25 vertical feet of water and sink to a record low by November 2014.
Excerpt: “This is an alarming trend, and one that we would really like to see come to an end,” said water authority spokesman J.C. Davis. “Even if we have an ‘average’ year on the Colorado this year, Lake Mead is projected to continue falling. In order to make a significant dent, we would need at a minimum something on the order of 150 percent of normal.”
Excerpt: Each lake is now more than half empty, and the combined amount of water left in them is nearing its lowest point since Powell was filled for the first time.
Excerpt: Not far from the magnificent canyons of American lore, the Colorado River’s new course is being carved out of figures and formulae. These calculations determine the future for the 40 million rural folks and city dwellers in the Wild West’s desert civilization who use water from the Colorado, as well as for the millions who benefit from its cheap hydroelectric power.
Excerpt: Already there are more claims to water than the river can supply, and Mead and Powell are both less than half full. Even worse, climate experts warn that a warming globe will increase evaporation rates and dial down rainfall. The Bureau of Reclamation, in a landmark study of the river’s supply and demand published last December, forecasted an average 9 percent drop in runoff within the Basin by 2060. At the high end, other studies warn that a decline of 30 percent is possible by mid-century.
Excerpt: As Mead and Powell circle the drain, this chatter will grow stronger. Though a shortage might not immediately change the amount of water used — because of water banks, existing conservation benefits, and groundwater — the greater effect might be psychological, University of Colorado Law School’s Udall argues.
“It’s one thing to talk about hardship and another thing to have to endure it,” he said.
Excerpt: Legally, California is allowed to take 4.4 million acre-feet from the Colorado, but for many years the state sucked more than that. Upstream states didn’t mind, as they weren’t using their entire allocations. But that changed around the millennium, when, as Ed Marston reported in 2001, “the other states, growing larger and thirstier with each passing year, worried that they would never get to use their full apportionments of the Colorado if California's use became institutionalized.”
Excerpt: As uncertain as the future of the Sea is, Colorado River users may have a bigger problem on their hands: over-allocation. Last December, the Bureau of Reclamation released a report predicting water demand will soon outstrip supply, due to drought, climate change and increased growth in the Southwest.
Excerpt: Recently, the Colorado has been named America’s Most Endangered River, and for plenty of good reasons. In some places the Colorado River is drained dry, in others its flows are so depleted and manipulated that fish and wildlife are federally listed as “endangered,” and in yet others more dam/diversion/pipeline projects are proposed that would drain the last legally allowed drops of water out of the river.
Excerpt: Even as our populations grow, the climate is changing. We know that drought is likely to be the “new normal” in the Colorado River basin, and scientists tell us that climate change could reduce the amount of water in the Colorado River ecosystem by 9 to 20 percent. Predictions of the famed Lake Mead and Lake Powell being drained dry are a small but real part of this picture — Southern Nevada’s effort to build the “third straw” out of Lake Mead is a clear example of this threat.
Excerpt: The good news is that the federal government has stepped up its efforts to address our endangered river. But now it’s time for Congress to get into the act, too. Congress needs to provide more funding for water conservation programs throughout the basin, needs to support investments to increase the efficiency of water projects that are already built, and needs to provide funding to promote and protect the Colorado River itself.
Excerpt: Senior officials from the United States and Mexico signed a broad five-year agreement on Tuesday that marks renewed cooperation over the Colorado River, a desert lifeline that provides water to at least 30 million people, irrigation to top agricultural counties, and electricity to millions — despite water demands in the last few years rising above the average annual supply.
Excerpt: “That we were able to address all three things makes this truly historic,” said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar after the signing ceremony Tuesday in San Diego. “A year ago, people would have said it was impossible to do, even in the last 20 days. It seemed at times like Humpty Dumpty was falling off the wall. This great team kept him on the wall, and we get to celebrate the birth of a new relationship between the U.S. and Mexico on the Colorado River.”
Excerpt: After years of sporadic negotiations, U.S. and Mexican officials Tuesday are set to sign a major agreement aimed at improving binational cooperation over the Colorado River.
Excerpt: Under the five-year deal, regional water agencies in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada will purchase a total of nearly 100,000 acre-feet of water from Mexico's share of the Colorado River — enough to cover the needs of 200,000 families for a year.
In exchange, Mexico will receive $10 million to repair damage done to its irrigation canals by the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck the Mexicali Valley in 2010.
Excerpt: Under the accord, Mexico will agree to take a lesser amount of water during times of drought and be allowed to store water in Lake Mead — on the Nevada-Arizona border — during times of surplus or when, because of infrastructure problems, it cannot use its entire annual allocation.
Excerpt: After years of negotiations, the United States and Mexico have struck a deal that could keep more water in Lake Mead and help improve water efficiency and the environment south of the border.
Excerpt: The landmark five-year agreement would allow Mexico to store some of its annual Colorado River allotment in Lake Mead for future use.
Excerpt: For one thing, the lower the lake sinks, the closer it gets to the trigger point for the authority's multibillion-dollar plan to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas from across eastern Nevada.
The surface of the lake now stands at 1,116 feet above sea level. If it drops to 1,075 feet, authority board members will cast their final vote on whether to proceed with the pipeline.
"That project is our protection from catastrophe. It's our safety net," Mulroy said. "As long as we can continue to defer it, we will."
Excerpt: A new race for water is rippling through the drought-scorched heartland, pitting farmers against oil and gas interests, driven by new drilling techniques that use powerful streams of water, sand and chemicals to crack the ground and release stores of oil and gas.
Excerpt: A single such well can require five million gallons of water, and energy companies are flocking to water auctions, farm ponds, irrigation ditches and municipal fire hydrants to get what they need.
That thirst is helping to drive an explosion of oil production here, but it is also complicating the long and emotional struggle over who drinks and who does not in the arid and fast-growing West. Farmers and environmental activists say they are worried that deep-pocketed energy companies will have purchase on increasingly scarce water supplies as they drill deep new wells that use the technique of hydraulic fracturing.
Excerpt: The decades of compacts, laws, contracts and regulatory guidelines that are supposed to manage bordering states’ use of the Colorado River have come to be known collectively as the “Law of the River.”
Excerpt: Ninety years after the first agreements were drawn up, and more than 50 years after the Supreme Court set water-use levels for Arizona and its neighbors, demand for Colorado River water continues to grow. But the amount of water flowing in the river, and the allotments of it to different users, remains the same.
Excerpt: Jobs like the large marine industry in Lake Havasu City that builds, services and repairs boats, said Gary Kellogg, president and CEO of the Lake Havasu Partnership for Economic Development.
“The water has a lot of uses out here,” Kellogg said. “We pump it to a lot of different cities, but since we are a tourism-based city, so many of our jobs here rely on the river.”
But of the 2.8 million acre feet of water the state can take from the Colorado River, “the vast majority is used for agriculture,” said Mitch Basefsky, a spokesman for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.
Excerpt: If we sound a little tentative on the subject, it's because of the mixed messages that were coming from all over the Rez as soon as U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl introduced the Little Colorado River settlement bill in February.
Now that the Navajo Nation Council has voted to oppose the bill as well as the underlying settlement, it's uncertain how or if any of the agreement's terms can be salvaged.
Excerpt: Flagstaff had a stake in the settlement because it would have legalized, without threat of future tribal litigation, its current use of Lake Mary and C-Aquifer wells inside the city limits for drinking water.
The two tribes contend they have historic rights to all groundwater and river water in the region, and without a settlement, Flagstaff could be back in court trying to defend its own historic claims to water inside its boundaries.
Excerpt: The tribes have a bird in the hand right now if they will only close their fist around it. Leave it open too much longer -- Kyl retires after this year -- and they will have ceded the issue back to unelected lawyers and the courts, which is not where such important issues should be decided.