Water managers in the western U.S. are facing a monumental task. Federal officials have given seven states an August deadline to figure out a plan to conserve an unprecedented amount of water. Without major cutbacks in water use, the nation’s two largest reservoirs are in danger of reaching critically low levels.
As the West endures another year of unrelenting drought worsened by climate change, the Colorado River’s reservoirs have declined so low that major water cuts will be necessary next year to reduce risks of supplies reaching perilously low levels, a top federal water official said Tuesday.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said during a Senate hearing in Washington that federal officials now believe protecting “critical levels” at the country’s largest reservoirs — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — will require much larger reductions in water deliveries.
(Editor’s Note: Sandra L. Kerl, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, issued a statement on U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton’s testimony today before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on the severity of the drought on the Colorado River and need for near- and long-term innovation and investment: https://www.waternewsnetwork.com/san-diego-county-water-authority-general-manager-issues-statement-on-colorado-river-conditions-and-sustainability/)
June 14, 2022 – Sandra L. Kerl, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority, issued the following statement on U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton’s testimony today before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on the severity of the drought on the Colorado River and need for near- and long-term innovation and investment:
“The water situation across the state and Southwest is dire, as historically dry conditions exacerbated by climate change shrink water storage levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell and threaten the loss of power generation. One look at the river system today communicates as no words can, how devastating these impacts are and the need for all parties – the seven Basin states, federal government, tribal nations and our neighbor to the south, Mexico – to make the kind of changes needed to ensure that this precious resource will be available for future generations.
“Two decades ago, after experiencing severe drought and shortages in our own local water supplies, the Water Authority Board of Directors and San Diego County ratepayers made the difficult decision to simultaneously invest in the largest water conservation program in the West, while reducing per capita local water consumption by more than 40%. It hasn’t been easy, but the fruits of our labor have been realized by dramatic increases in efficiency in agricultural production in Imperial County and by securing a highly reliable water supply for San Diego County. Importantly, land was not fallowed, people did not lose their jobs and all environmental impacts were fully accounted for.
“San Diego’s water conservation agreement with the Imperial Irrigation District was made possible by legislation passed decades ago in Sacramento that can be a model for how to sustain environmental, agricultural, and urban water needs while using significantly less water. Under the leadership of Governor Newsom and with Adel Hagekhalil now at the helm of the Metropolitan Water District, the state and all Southern California are poised for innovation and to build on this successful model.
“Our public policy must be focused first on making conservation and reclamation work, and on recognizing that that it will cost money. We cannot succeed with policies that unintentionally fail to connect the benefits of conservation to the ratepayers who foot the bill.
“The Water Authority is fully committed to working together with all parties to promote innovation and to the long-term sustainability of our most precious resource, and to protecting the human right to water. Our collective success is vital to our communities, farms, environment and the economy.”
— Sandra L. Kerl, General Manager, San Diego County Water Authority
A massive drought-starved reservoir on the Colorado River has become so depleted that Las Vegas now is pumping water from deeper within Lake Mead where other states downstream don’t have access.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority announced this week that its Low Lake Level Pumping Station is operational, and released photos of the uppermost intake visible at 1,050 feet (320 meters) above sea level at the lake behind Hoover Dam.
“While this emphasizes the seriousness of the drought conditions, we have been preparing for this for more than a decade,” said Bronson Mack, water authority spokesman. The low-level intake allows Las Vegas “to maintain access to its primary water supply in Lake Mead, even if water levels continue to decline due to ongoing drought and climate change conditions,” he said.
The move to begin using what had been seen as an in-case-we-need-it hedge against taps running dry comes as water managers in several states that rely on the Colorado River take new steps to conserve water amid what has become perpetual drought.
A small bucket loader scraped Wahweap Bay’s expanding strip of red mud and gravel, its operator smoothing the shoreline where concrete workers were busy chasing a lake in retreat.
To the left, where the bay had long offered kayakers and water skiers a loop around Lone Rock, the monumental slab now rose from dust flats instead of from flat water. To the right, in the channel that leads to Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River’s sunken bed, formerly submerged islands and peninsulas mapped out a warming climate’s continuing transformation of one of America’s great water stores and pleasure grounds.
A desert flooded by impounded waters in the last century has visibly reasserted itself in this one.
October marks the beginning of a new calendar for those who measure and manage the west’s water. The good news? Across the Colorado River basin, there’s a lot less “exceptional drought.”
The amount of land under the absolute driest designation is down about 60% in less than a year. The bad news is that more than 90% of the basin remains in some level of drought.
Experts in government, agriculture, water management and the environment stressed during a U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday the danger that droughts fueled by climate change pose in the West, including the Colorado River Basin.
During a hearing before an Energy and Natural Resources Committee panel, witnesses said long-term solutions and an investment in water infrastructure are needed to combat the effects of climate change.
Extended droughts broken up by rainy years are part of a natural cycle here in California. Our state is once again in another dry period, with areas of Northern California already experiencing a significant impact. It is not a question of if, but when the Coachella Valley faces a similar fate.
Thanks to decades of targeted projects and careful planning, Mission Springs Water District will have enough water to serve our 40,000 customers in and around Desert Hot Springs.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is the main wholesale water provider in Santa Clara County, on June 9 declared a drought emergency and called on all residents to reduce water use 15% from 2019 levels to preserve supplies.
In August, the most recent month for which data is available, countywide water use dropped by 9%. That was an improvement from a 6% drop in July, but still is significantly under the goal.
Here is the percentage change in water use between August 2019 and August 2021 at the 13 cities and private water companies the Santa Clara Valley Water District serves.
Northern California receives more annual rain and snow than Southern California, with 75% of the state’s precipitation falling in the watersheds north of Sacramento. Yet amid a drought, it seems people in the north are conserving water by letting their lawns turn brown and taking shorter showers as districts and municipalities impose mandatory water-use restrictions, while urban areas of the arid south are lush and green with well-watered gardens and lawns.