LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Nevada will lose 8% of the Colorado River water allocated to the state as new drought restrictions begin in 2023, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced on Tuesday.
The reduction is the second straight year of reductions after the federal government declared a water shortage last August. The Southwest is currently in the 23rd year of a drought.
Arizona’s allocation will drop by 21%, and California will see no new cuts under drought restrictions because the state has “banked” water. Mexico will lose 7% of its water from the river. The cuts are part of “Tier 2” cuts that were expected as the drought continues.
Nevada’s share of the Colorado River drops to 275,000 acre-feet per year under the Tier 2 cuts. The state used only 242,000 acre-feet last year, and is on pace to use about the same this year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.
Those levels show that the Las Vegas valley will have the water it needs, but conservation remains a critically important element in ensuring water supplies going forward. Nevada gets less water from the Colorado River than any other state.
The Bureau of Reclamation has asked states that use Colorado River water to formulate plans to cut an additional 2 million to 4 million acre-feet from their allocations — a 15-30% reduction. That would be a big problem for every state, and particularly for Southern Nevada, which gets 90% of its water from Lake Mead.
When asked to address the situation with those cuts, officials gave no specifics. The bureau is looking for “consensus solutions,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau. “There’s still time for that.” The bureau’s deadline for states to submit their plans is today.
Beaudreau said, “Everybody has to tighten their belts in this situation.”
The federal government has decided to keep more water — about 1 million acre-feet — in Lake Powell rather than releasing it downstream to Lake Mead, according to documents released today.
Lake Mead will operate under its first-ever Level 2a Shortage Condition. The combined water storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead is currently at 28% of capacity, according to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton.
She said farming would be impacted most by the new cuts.
When asked why states wouldn’t just ignore the bureau’s request for plans to cut as much as 4 million acre-feet, Touton said today’s actions put the process in place to require the cuts.
The bureau’s 24-month study shows that Lake Mead is headed 26 feet lower a year from now. The lake is currently at 1,042 feet, but forecasts show it dropping to 1,016 at the end of September 2023. Forecasts show it dropping to 1,013 feet by July 2024.
Lake levels are expressed in altitude above sea level — not the depth of the reservoir.
Looking ahead to additional restrictions that might be ahead, the bureau looked at extreme predictions. “Lake Mead could drop below 1,000 feet … as early as the summer of 2024,” according to Daniel Bunk, Deputy Chief of the Boulder Canyon Operations Office of the Bureau of Reclamation. A drop that severe would put the Southwest U.S. on track for Tier 3 restrictions.
“While we have done a lot to protect Lake Powell and Lake Mead, more needs to be done,” Bunk said.
Federal officials said the two reservoirs have experienced three consecutive dry years, and four out of five of those years have had below-normal water flow.
Problems recently pointed out with Glen Canyon Dam’s infrastructure was one topic of the question and answer session that followed the presentation. Tanya Trujillo, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, said the bureau was looking at ways they could continue to deliver water downstream that would bypass current limits — for both Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
But conservation was the overriding theme. Suggestions that Glen Canyon Dam should be decommissioned are not part of the bureau’s plan, Trujillo said.
“The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation. In turn, severe drought conditions exacerbate wildfire risk and ecosystems disruption, increasing the stress on communities and our landscapes,” Beaudreau said.