The Colorado River runs out of water after crossing into Mexico on July 6, 2022, in Mexicali, Baja California. The river’s natural path becomes only sand and weeds less than a mile after crossing the border in Mexicali, Mexico.
PUBLISHED: August 16, 2022 at 12:24 p.m. | UPDATED: August 16, 2022 at 5:54 p.m.
Seven western states and the 40 million people in them that depend on the Colorado River can’t yet agree how to use less water and Tuesday federal officials told them to cut even deeper.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave the seven states until Monday to voluntarily find a way to save at least 21% of the river’s annual flows, threatening to take over the process and impose its own cuts. But the states didn’t meet the deadline and experts worry they’re fracturing at a time when they most need to work together.
“They are not singing ‘Kumbaya’ right now,” Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network told The Denver Post. “They’re sharpening their knives.”
Conditions along the Colorado River are expected to worsen so much in the coming months that they’ve triggered mandatory cuts that the states agreed to in 2007. Officials from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of the Interior said in a news conference Tuesday morning that Arizona, Mexico and Nevada are first on the chopping block. Together they must find a way to save an extra 7.5% of the river’s annual flows.
That translates to Arizona needing to conserve an additional 592,000 acre-feet of water, Mexico must save 104,000 acre-feet and Nevada must save 25,000 acre-feet, Chris Cutler, who manages Reclamations’ Water and Power Services Division, said.
An acre-foot is enough water, by volume, to last two average families of four a year.
The now-mandatory cuts required for Arizona, Mexico and Nevada pale in comparison to the 2 million to 4 million acre-feet federal officials had asked states in the Colorado River Basin to voluntarily find a way to save by Monday. Federal officials shied away from questions about that missed deadline indicating that the states had perhaps effectively called their bluff.
As of yet, no cuts are required for California, which uses the most water in the basin. That could change, however, if conditions worsen, according to the rules adopted in 2007.
Federal officials acknowledged that more must be done to keep water flowing downstream and into the country’s two largest reservoirs.
If levels at those reservoirs — Lake Mead in southeast Nevada and Lake Powell in south-central Utah — drop too low, they might not be able to send enough water to