The new Colorado River drought plan is an important first step
Earlier this month, after years of fitful effort, state agencies and water providers agreed on a Drought Contingency Plan to deal with the very real possibility of shortages in the water supply provided by the river.
On the positive side, the tentative agreement creates a framework to save more water in Lake Mead in coming years and to allocate the supply cutbacks that will accompany the nearly inevitable shortage.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency which oversees management of the river system, there’s a nearly 60 percent chance that a “Tier 1” shortage will be declared in the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) in 2020.
The goal of the Drought Contingency Plan is to prevent even deeper cutbacks in the future supply available to the Lower Basin.
A successfully implemented Drought Contingency Plan will reduce the risk of deeper shortages.
From the moment a Drought Contingency Plan is formally signed, central Arizona will have to live without 192,000 acre feet of water per year.
It’s also likely that the federal government will declare a “Tier 1” shortage in 2020, forcing a cutback of 512,000 acre feet of water per year, or nearly 30 percent of Arizona’s annual Central Arizona Project supply.
But the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan only gets us so far.
This month’s agreements will help get river communities through the near-term shortages that seem inevitable, and they are an important first step toward more lasting solutions.
Protecting the river and the water it provides will require us to develop resilient solutions that reduce water consumption and efficiently share the river’s waters.