PHOENIX — For the first time ever, the federal government is expected, later this summer, to declare a drought emergency on the lower Colorado River.
Water levels at Lake Mead, which feeds the Colorado River, have dropped 130 feet since 2000. The lake is now at its lowest level since the construction of the Hoover Dam.
Phoenix is one of the many beneficiaries of water from Lake Mead with 400,000 residents relying on Colorado River water. It amounts to 40% of the city’s supply.
“It’s something that gives us pause,” said Cynthia Campbell, the city of Phoenix Water Resource Management Advisor. “But it’s not something we haven’t prepared for.”
In 2017, with no end to the drought gripping the west in sight, Phoenix began planning the massive $280 million drought pipeline project. Nine miles of 66-inch pipe routed through pricey neighborhoods and a park preserve. It will connect a water treatment facility in the Biltmore area to a pipeline at 32nd Street and Bell Road.
“It’s concerning to see the water levels drop. But [with] this project we’ll be able to deliver the water to our residents,” said Deputy Water Services Director Darlene Helm.
When the project is completed in the spring of 2023, the pipeline will allow the city to move water from its Salt and Verde River reserves to North Phoenix where Colorado River water is used. At peak times of the day, that can be a lot of water.
“It can move about 90 million gallons north,” Helms said.
While farmers brace for significant cuts to their allotment in 2022, Phoenix still has time to prepare for and even lessen its need of Colorado River water.
“That would be ideal,” Campbell said. “I don’t know if that is where we have to go just yet. But that is kind of the way we’ve been planning.”