Quantcast
Climate
Lake Mead as seen from the Hoover Dam with a "bathtub ring" showing the water level. Alex Proimos / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Unprecedented Colorado River Water Shortage Could Be Declared in 2020

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."

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Some of the young plaintiffs in landmark climate case Juliana v. United States. Our Children's Trust

Supreme Court Puts Historic Youth Climate Lawsuit on Hold

The U.S. Supreme Court put a landmark climate case on pause Friday while it considers a last-ditch attempt by the Trump administration to stop it from proceeding to trial, Climate Liability News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Annette Bernhardt / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

3 Things You Can Do to Help Avoid Climate Disaster

By Stephanie Feldstein

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dire warning last week: We need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to do it fast to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Jess Lundgren / CC BY 2.0

The Trump Administration’s ‘Dishonest’ Attack on Fuel-Economy Standards

By John R. Platt

The Trump administration's plan to freeze fuel-economy standards is "the most spectacular regulatory flip-flop in history," said a retired EPA engineer who helped to develop new the standards under the Obama administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Lizzie Carr traveling down the Hudson River on her stand-up paddleboard. Max Guliani / The Hudson Project

Her Stand-Up Paddleboard Is a Platform for Campaigning Against Plastic Pollution

By Patrick Rogers

Lizzie Carr was navigating a stretch of the Hudson River north of Yonkers, New York, recently when she spotted it—a hunk of plastic so large and out of place that she was momentarily at a loss to describe it.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Science
The Ross Ice Shelf at the Bay of Whales. Michael Van Woert, NOAA

Scientists Study Ice Shelf by Listening to Its Changing Sounds

By Marlene Cimons

Researchers monitoring vibrations from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf were flabbergasted not long ago to hear something unexpected—the ice was "singing" to them. "We were stunned by a rich variety of time-varying tones that make up this newly described sort of signal," said Rick Aster, professor of geosciences at Colorado State University, one of the scientists involved in the study.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
DSLRVideo.com / Flicker / CC BY-SA 2.0

'Go Out and Vote' Patagonia Endorses Candidates for First Time in Its History

Outdoor brand Patagonia is endorsing candidates for the first time in its history in an effort to protect the country's at-risk public lands and waters.

The civic-minded retailer is backing two Democrats in two crucial Senate races: the re-election of Sen. Jon Tester of Montana; and Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Desert Bighorn Sheep in Joshua Tree National Park. Kjaergaard / CC BY 3.0

Leaked Trump Administration Memo: Keep Public in Dark About How Endangered Species Decisions Are Made

In a Trump administration memorandum leaked to the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is directing its staff to withhold, or delay releasing, certain public records about how the Endangered Species Act is carried out. That includes records where the advice of career wildlife scientists may be overridden by political appointees in the Trump administration.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Disposable diapers add staggering amounts of waste to landfills. Pxhere

Dirty Diapers Could Be Recycled Into Fabrics, Furniture Under P&G Joint Venture

Disposal diapers can take an estimated 500 years to decompose. That means if Henry VIII wore disposables, they'd probably still be around today.

Although throwaway nappies are undoubtedly convenient, these mostly-synthetic items cause never-ending steams of waste that will take centuries to disappear.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!