Federal officials say Arizona must cut its water supply from the Colorado River by 21 percent.
The announcement from the United States Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation is pursuant to a two-year study on the Colorado River System, which includes Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
“The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation,” Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said. “In turn, severe drought conditions exacerbate wildfire risk and ecosystems disruption, increasing the stress on communities and our landscapes.”
Though Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada will be impacted by water reductions, Arizona faces the largest cuts.
Federal officials will cut Arizona’s water usage by 592,000 acre-feet. One acre of water, which is about 325,851 gallons, will typically supply three average Phoenix households with water for a year, according to a local NBC affiliate.
“Every sector in every state has a responsibility to ensure that water is used with maximum efficiency. In order 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,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “The Interior Department is employing prompt and responsive actions and investments to ensure the entire Colorado River Basin can function and support all who rely on it. We are grateful for the hardworking public servants who have dedicated their lives to this work, and who are passionate about the long-term sustainability of Basin states, Tribes, and communities.”
In June, the Interior Department asked Basin states to develop an agreement by Aug. 15 to reduce water consumption. However, no such agreement was finalized.
“Arizona has already reduced its consumption of Colorado River water at a pace and scale not seen in other states,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly in a letter to Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland.
Arizona has done more than our part when it comes to water conservation. I’ve been working with Arizona water leaders and am asking @SecDebHaaland to lay out options to implement drought mitigation measures in order to protect Arizona water resources. https://t.co/A330g1MHfq
— Senator Mark Kelly (@SenMarkKelly) August 16, 2022
Kelly also requested the Department outline its legal authority to implement mitigation measures that would further restrict Arizona’s access to water from the Colorado River Basin.
The reduction in water supply is expected to have a severe impact on Arizona farmers. Water officials previously told NBC they “expect two-thirds of the river water that goes toward state farming to be cut.”
“Very likely we are going to see a lot of hardship in our important agricultural regions,” Sarah Porter, director of the Kyleighs Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, said in anticipation of the new federal guidance. “You know Yuma produces the winter vegetables for the United States and Canada from November to May. Like 90 percent of the winter vegetables that we eat in the United States and Canada come from Yuma.”
She added that the Colorado River is not the sole source of water for state residents and advised there is currently no need to worry about taps running dry.
“There are backup supplies, there are other sources of supply, but there is just less water available,” Porter said.