Drought Leads Bureau of Reclamation to Declare Water Shortage in the Lower Basin

Following a long period of drought, and requests from at least 10 governors for drought aid, the federal government has taken action declaring an official water shortage for the Lake Mead reservoir, the largest in the U.S, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. This is the first time a shortage has been declared in the Lower Basin, which the government said demonstrates “the severity of the drought and low reservoir conditions.”

The reservoir provides water for Arizona and Nevada, and Mexico, and the declared shortage implements will reduce the water apportionments allocated for each of these areas. The press release considered annual operations for both Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and said that the downstream releases from Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam will be reduced in 2022 limiting water sent to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico.

Additionally, the release explained that the Colorado River brought just 26 percent of its average amount into Lake Powell after “an exceptionally dry spring.” The bureau also noted that the Colorado River System is at 40% of capacity, which is significantly lower than the 49% from last year.

“Like much of the West, and across our connected basins, the Colorado River is facing unprecedented and accelerating challenges,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for Water and Science with the Bureau of Reclamation. “The only way to address these challenges and climate change is to utilize the best available science and to work cooperatively across the landscapes and communities that rely on the Colorado River. That is precisely the focus of the White House Interagency Drought Working Group—a multi-agency partnership created to collaborate with States, Tribes, farmers and communities impacted by drought and climate change to build and enhance regional resilience.”

Lake Mead will be the focus of the Bureau of Reclamation for the near future, as it invests in research and developing conservation solutions, and efficient use of the available water, the press release said.

The Associated Press reported that farmers in Arizona will see most of the water cuts, because their allocation of water is classified as extra, which could require them to fallow land, rely on groundwater, or switch to crops that need less water.