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Arizona to lose 21% of its Colorado River water in 2023

Western Drought Colorado River
Posted at 10:38 AM, Aug 16, 2022

PHOENIX — Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, continues to decline so rapidly it will operate at a Level 2a Shortage Condition beginning in 2023, the Department of Interior announced on Tuesday.

It is the second year in a row that deep cuts will be implemented to shore up the Colorado River system as prescribed in the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan which was agreed to by the seven states and Mexico that rely on the water.

Lake Mead drought NASA satellite images

The lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada, California, and the country of Mexico fall under the tier 2a plan.

With junior priority, Arizona is set to lose the most — 592,000 acre-feet, or 21%, of its annual allotment in this round of cuts. The loss nearly wipes out the allotment for agricultural users in Pinal County and is expected to impact some municipal users.

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Nevada will lose 25,000 acre-feet and Mexico will lose 104,000 acre-feet. California will not be required to lose any water in this tier.

At 26% capacity, Lake Powell will operate in the Lower Elevation Balancing tier.

Lake Powell

But in June, states were also ordered to negotiate even bigger cuts of two to four million acre-feet in 2023. The deadline of August 15 came and went without a deal.

Arizona water managers expressed frustration with the negotiation on Tuesday saying the state, along with Nevada, proposed an "aggressive" reduction of 2MAF that was rejected. In a joint statement, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke and Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke said, "It is unacceptable for Arizona to continue to carry a disproportionate burden of reductions for the benefit of others who have not contributed."

The failure to come to a compromise opens the door for the US Bureau of Reclamation to step in direct cuts.

The Bureau announced on Tuesday it will take administrative actions to "further define reservoir operations at Lake Mead." Additionally, it will support studies to determine if it is feasible to modify Lake Mead to allow water to be pumped below dead pool.

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No set amount for cuts was announced by the Bureau.