In the West: Drought Disaster Looms

May 4, 2021

Associated Press:

Arizona is prepared to lose about one-fifth of the water the state gets from the Colorado River in what could be the first federally declared shortage in the river that supplies millions of people in the U.S. West and Mexico, state officials said Thursday.

Arizona stands to lose more than any other state in the Colorado River basin that also takes in parts of Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and California. That’s because Arizona agreed long ago to be the first in line for cuts in exchange for federal funding for a canal system to deliver the water to Arizona’s major metropolitan areas.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project, which manages the canal system, said the anticipated reductions will be painful, but the state has prepared for decades for a shortage through conservation, water banking, partnerships and other efforts.

“It doesn’t make it any less painful. But at least we know what is coming,” said Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project.

Farmers in central Arizona’s Pinal County, who already have been fallowing land amid the ongoing drought and improving wells to pump groundwater in anticipation of the reductions, will bear the brunt of the cuts. Most farms there are family farms that are among the state’s top producers of livestock, dairy, cotton, barley, wheat and alfalfa.

In Pinal County, up to 40% of farmland that relies on Colorado River water could be fallowed over the next few years, said Stefanie Smallhouse, president of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation. 

“That’s a big blow,” she said. “I can’t think of many other businesses that can take a 40% cut in their income within a few months and still be sustainable. When you farm, it’s not only a business, it’s your livelihood.”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projected earlier this month that Lake Mead, which delivers water to Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico, will fall below 1,075 feet (328 meters) for the first time in June 2021. If the lake remains below that level in August when the bureau issues its official projection for 2022, Arizona and Nevada will lose water.

The two states already voluntarily have given up water under a separate drought contingency plan.

The voluntary and mandatory Tier 1 cuts mean Arizona will lose 18% of its Colorado River supply, or 512,000 acre-feet of water. The amount represents 30% of the water that goes to the Central Arizona Project and 8% of Arizona’s overall water supply.

Some of that water will be replaced through water exchanges, transfers from cities to irrigation districts or through water that was stored in Lake Mead in a sort of shell game. The state, tribes and others also contributed financially to help develop groundwater infrastructure. 

“We like to think we find ways to take care of ourselves collectively,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

CBS News:

In the past 20 years, the two worst stretches of drought came in 2003 and 2013 — but what is happening right now appears to be the beginning stages of something even more severe. And as we head into the summer dry season, the stage is set for an escalation of extreme dry conditions, with widespread water restrictions expected and yet another dangerous fire season ahead.

The above image is a time series of drought in the western states from 2000 to 2021. This latest 2020-2021 spike (on the right) is every bit as impressive as the others, but with one notable difference — this time around, the area of “exceptional drought” is far larger than any other spike, with an aerial coverage of over 20%. As we enter the dry season, there is very little chance conditions will get better — in fact it will likely only get drier. 

5 Responses to “In the West: Drought Disaster Looms”

  1. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    And in a La Nina year!

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    When I was searching for a place to move from here in Austin, several of the criteria involved climate change: Not in a water-poor area, not in a roasting area, not within immediate hits of hurricanes. I was willing to accept places that might get rain bombs (and river floods), but I would definitely scope out the watersheds and the locations of dams before settling on a spot for my little house.

    Few people have this luxury, but I’d rather be in a position to help than be the one who needs help.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    It looks like most of Arizona’s major aquifers are in its northeast quadrant (Colorado Plateau), mostly under Navajo and Hopi tribal lands. Good for them!

  4. redskylite Says:

    Giant sequoia still smoldering from 2020 California wildfire

    “The fact areas are still smoldering and smoking from the 2020 Castle Fire demonstrates how dry the park is,” said Leif Mathiesen, assistant fire management officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in central California. “With the low amount of snowfall and rain this year, there may be additional discoveries as spring transitions into summer.”

    https://phys.org/news/2021-05-california-sequoia-smoldering.html


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