Arizona and Nevada will be hit with another round of cuts to their water supplies, as the US Bureau of Reclamation said on Tuesday that ongoing drought continues to threaten water levels in the Colorado River and, by extension , to have an impact on western communities.
The announcement comes as western parts of the United States have already had to take a series of rare and even unprecedented steps to ration water in large parts of the country. Water levels in Nevada’s Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, reached historic lows in June.
Tuesday’s announcement included the designation of Lake Mead to operate in a Tier 2a shortage, which increases water restrictions on Arizona, Nevada and parts of Mexico. This is the first time the lake has been pushed to this designation.
The new regulations are based on the federal government’s projections for reservoir water levels over the next 24 months and will come into effect in January 2023.
“Each sector in each state has a responsibility to ensure that water is used at maximum efficiency,” Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior, said in a statement. “To avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River system and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the basin must be reduced,” she added.
Water rights operate on the basis of negotiated agreements on how much water a particular state or country can take from a body such as Lake Mead. The Colorado River provides water to seven states and Mexico, as stipulated in a 2019 agreement that outlines the river’s water administration amid ongoing historic drought exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
Based on this agreement, Arizona and Nevada face the largest cuts. At Tier 2a, Arizona will relinquish an additional 80,000 acres of Lake Mead water, removing water from cities and tribesin addition to the state’s agricultural sector which has already been affected by a previous round of cuts.
The new restrictions come as the seven states that rely on the Colorado River system missed a deadline imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation to come up with a plan to conserve at least 15% more water on top of pre-existing restrictions.
The Bureau of Reclamation has announced a number of ways it hopes to help “address this increased need for conservation” through administrative action, investment and support. The office did not specify what these actions and investments are or how they will be implemented.
Lake Mead water levels are expected to continue to drop and restrictions are expected to continue to increase.
The restrictions, in addition to additional office aspirations, have led to tensions between affected parties, particularly in Arizona, which continues to bear the brunt of water cuts.
“Where we do the lion’s share, California zips and Mexico does some, but not a lot,” said Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona project, which supplies water to more than 80 % of state population. “To do more for us is extremely heavy work and we cannot do it without other people doing the equivalent.”