Since 2000, the Colorado River and its reservoirs have seen significant decreases as a result of extreme drought conditions. These conditions only exacerbate the ongoing challenge of supply and demand: the farms and cities of the Southwest region have water demands that outweigh the available water supply leaving the river in a state of imbalance.
Last year, in recognition of the crisis, the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) was signed, but according to Brian Richter, the plan is not enough. Richter, president of the nonprofit group Sustainable Waters and a former director and chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy’s Global Water program, asserts that to overcome this imbalance the Lower Basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) need to “cut total water use by 18 percent from their 2000-2018 average.” Richter’s recommendation is beyond the scope of reductions mandated by the DCP, focusing more on short term reductions and not just reductions that are launched when levels in Lake Meade drop below a certain level.
2019 showed progress in reducing usage of the river, the total coming in at 6.567 million acre-feet which was shy of the legal limit, 7.5 million acre-feet. The reduction is capricious, though, as conditions affecting water usage vary from year to year. For example, California’s reduction this past year was due in part to increased snowpack which made more water available for use in the California State Water Project, a water delivery system comprised of aqueducts and reservoirs running from northern to southern California. The DCP runs through 2026, by which time a long-term plan should be established. However, the reality is that states have already implemented policies toward reductions that bring their levels in lower than the first tier of reductions imposed by the plan, seemingly supporting Richter’s assertion.
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