Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Unprecedented Colorado River Water Shortage Could Be Declared in 2020

Climate
Unprecedented Colorado River Water Shortage Could Be Declared in 2020
Lake Mead as seen from the Hoover Dam with a "bathtub ring" showing the water level. Alex Proimos / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

After years of unrelenting drought, federal forecasters reported there are better-than-even odds that the nation's largest reservoir will decline into shortage conditions by 2020, forcing Arizona, Nevada and Mexico to reduce their Colorado River water use.

Millions of U.S. residents and farmers are served by the Lake Mead reservoir that's supplied by the Colorado. However, water levels have dropped consistently after years of back-to-back drought. The reservoir is considered full at 1,220 feet above sea level, which has not been seen since 1983.


If the lake's surface elevation falls below 1,075 feet in January of any given year, it would trigger the first-ever federal shortage declaration. Worryingly, the latest projections from the the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation show there's a 52 percent chance that could happen in two years.

Once a shortage is declared, Arizona's annual water allocation from the Colorado River would be cut by 11 percent. Nevada would face a 4 percent reduction and Mexico will see a 3 percent cut.

As Arizona public radio station KNAU noted, "A shortage declaration is unprecedented."

Marlon Duke of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation explained that 19 years of drought have depleted water supplies.

"This is the worst drought in at least the last 100 years of our recorded history, and as we look back further than that, we can see signs that this one of the worst droughts probably the last 1,200 years of the paleo-record," Duke told KNAU.

If the water level drops even further, it could prompt cuts for other states. Unfortunately, the chances of shortfall rise even higher in the following years, with 64 percent in 2021 and 68 percent in 2022, the bureau projected.

Last year, the U.S. and Mexico agreed on a new strategy that would help conserve water. However, that agreement will only go into effect if Arizona, California and Nevada finalize their drought contingency plan.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman issued a strong call for action as another dry year in the Colorado River basin looms.

"We need action and we need it now. We can't afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans," said Burman in a statement. "We all—states, tribes, water districts, non-governmental organizations—have an obligation and responsibility to work together to meet the needs of over 40 million people who depend on reliable water and power from the Colorado River. I'm calling on the Colorado River basin states to put real—and effective—drought contingency plans in place before the end of this year."

A new UK study links eating meat with increased risks for heart disease, diabetes and more. nata_zhekova / Getty Images

The World Health Organization has determined that red meat probably causes colorectal cancer in humans and that processed meat is carcinogenic to humans. But are there other health risks of meat consumption?

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A common cuttlefish like this can pass the "marshmallow test." Hans Hillewaert / CC BY-SA 4.0

Cuttlefish, marine invertebrates related to squids and octopuses, can pass the so-called "marshmallow test," an experiment designed to test whether human children have the self-control to wait for a better reward.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Yogyakarta Bird Market, Central Java, Indonesia. Jorge Franganillo / CC BY 2.0

By John R. Platt

The straw-headed bulbul doesn't look like much.

It's less than a foot in length, with subdued brown-and-gold plumage, a black beak and beady red eyes. If you saw one sitting on a branch in front of you, you might not give it a second glance.

Read More Show Less
Red Knots are among the shorebirds that a scientific study is tracking. BrianEKushner / Getty Images

By Julián García Walther

One morning in January, I found myself 30 feet up a tall metal pole, carrying 66 pounds of aluminum antennas and thick weatherproofed cabling. From this vantage point, I could clearly see the entire Punta Banda Estuary in northwestern Mexico. As I looked through my binoculars, I observed the estuary's sandy bar and extensive mudflats packed with thousands of migratory shorebirds frenetically pecking the mud for food.

Read More Show Less
The Great Barrier Reef at Whitsunday Island, Australia. Daniel Osterkamp / Getty Images

The world's oceans and coastal ecosystems can store remarkable amounts of carbon dioxide. But if they're damaged, they can also release massive amounts of emissions back into the atmosphere.

Read More Show Less