Upper Colorado River Basin states can expect ‘substantial releases’ in reservoirs to help lower basin states, say Feds

Despite giving states more time to negotiate, federal officials said some cuts are coming

Chris Outcalt
The Colorado Sun
Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County shows the effect of a water draw down on October 29, 2021. The reservoir has lowered because water from it is being released downstream to increase the volume of water available to downstream users that rely on the Colorado River. Blue Mesa is fed by the Gunnison River, one of the Colorado River's largest tributaries. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)
Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun

Federal officials Tuesday gave more time to Colorado and its neighboring states to agree on the massive cuts in Colorado River use needed to protect the country’s two largest reservoirs, even as they announced that historic cuts were coming to parts of the Southwest.

Officials said that Lake Mead, east of Las Vegas, would operate in its first-ever “level 2a shortage condition” in 2023, triggering previously agreed upon reductions in water use in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. California does not take cuts under this shortage level.

In Arizona, the cuts amount to 592,000 acre-feet, or 21% of the state’s annual apportionment. In Nevada, the cuts will be 92,000 acre-feet, or about 8%. And Mexico will take a 7% or 104,000 acre-foot hit.

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton said during a Tuesday call with reporters that the federal government would continue to work with the seven Colorado River Basin states to find consensus on new water cuts in response to federal officials identifying the need for 2 million to 4 million acre-feet in water savings needed next year. Officials identified those cuts as necessary to protect critical infrastructure at Lake Powell and Lake Mead as well as hydropower production.

“There was little in today’s announcement that was responsive to the commissioner’s call for 2 to 4 million acre-feet reduction in use,” said Jack Schmidt, director of the Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University. “None of the numbers that were talked about today had anything to do with the 2 to 4 million acre-foot call. Essentially, in the nicest of ways, the announcement today said we aren’t there yet. I’m not going to say we failed because we can’t fail. But they certainly said ‘we missed the deadline and we’re going to keep working at it.’”

Read the full story at The Colorado Sun.

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