The US West prepares for the possibility of the first water scarcity declaration

Carson City, Nevada (AP) — The artificial lake that waters millions of people in the western United States and Mexico will shrink to historic lows in the coming months, making it the first federal lake. It is predicted to drop to levels that can cause it. Official shortfall declarations and rapid reductions in Arizona and Nevada.

This week, the U.S. Department of Pioneering released a 24-month forecast that predicts that Colorado River water will flow from the Rocky Mountains through Lake Powell and Lake Mead into the arid deserts of the southwestern United States and the Gulf of California. The water levels of the two lakes are expected to be low enough for government agencies to declare a formal shortage for the first time, threatening the water supply of the Colorado River, on which growing cities and farms depend.

Climate change means less snowfall in rivers and their tributaries, with hotter soils moistening and more river water evaporating as it flows through the drought-stricken western United States. Because.

The agency’s model project, Lake Mead, will fall below 1,075 feet (328 meters) for the first time in June 2021. It depends on the waters of the Colorado River in seven states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

However, the April forecast has no binding impact. Federal authorities regularly publish long-term forecasts, but use the forecasts released each August to determine how to allocate river water. If the prediction does not improve by then, the Pioneer Department declares a Level 1 deficiency. The reduction will take effect in January.

Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico have voluntarily abandoned water under a river drought emergency response plan signed in 2019. The shortfall declaration puts two US states subject to the first compulsory cuts. Both depend more on the Colorado River than any other source, and Arizona has lost about one-third of its supply.

Water Department officials say they are confident that if the drought lasts as expected, preparatory measures such as conservation and the search for alternative water sources can withstand the reduction.

“This study is important, but not surprising. It reflects the effects of dry and warm conditions throughout the Colorado River basin this year and the effects of long-term droughts that affected the Colorado River’s water supply.” Officials say. Said in a joint statement of the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project.

In Nevada, agencies that supply most of the state have built “straws” to draw more water from below as Lake Mead’s water level drops. We have also created a credit system that allows reclaimed water to be returned to the reservoir without counting into quotas.

Colby Peregrino, director of water resources at the South Nevada Water Department, reassured customers that these preparatory measures would isolate them from the effects of reductions. But she warned that more action was needed.

“Every user of the Colorado River is obliged to find a way to conserve it,” Pellegrino said in a statement.

The Pioneer Department also predicted that Lake Mead would drop to where they had been worried in the past that it could threaten Hoover Dam’s power generation. Hydropower serves millions of customers in Arizona, California and Nevada.

To prepare for the future with less water, the station spent 10 years replacing five of the 17 turbines in the rotating dam to generate electricity. The addition of wide-head turbines will allow the dam to operate more efficiently at lower water levels, said Ren Schilling, the agency’s dam manager. He said the turbine could generate electricity almost to a point called the “deadpool” when there was not enough water for the dam to function.

However, Schilling pointed out that less water passing through the Hoover Dam means less hydropower to orbit around.

“When the lake’s elevation goes down, less water pushes the turbines, which reduces its power generation capacity,” he said.

The cost of hydropower is significantly lower than the energy sold in the wholesale electricity market, as the government only charges customers the cost of producing it and maintaining the dam.

Dave Rutrell, general manager of the Lincoln County Electricity District, said cost in rural Nevada due to infrastructure updates, reduced hydropower from Hoover Dam, and auxiliary power from other sources such as natural gas. Said that it went up and surprised customers.

“The rural economies of Arizona and Nevada are alive and dead from hydropower produced at Hoover Dam. That may not be a big deal for NV Energy,” he said. Said about. “It may be a decimal point for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, but for Lincoln County, it has a big impact.”


Metz is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America Is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in the local newsroom to report on hidden issues.