Arizona will have to learn to live with less water from the Colorado River.
That was the message from managers of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) which distributes river water that flows to users in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties, during a Colorado River Shortage Briefing on Friday.
The river accounts for 40% of Arizona's water supply.
A twenty-two-year drought across the West, compounded by climate change has caused historic shortages on the river and the lakes that store it.
Lake Powell sits on the Arizona-Utah border and is the second-largest reservoir on the river. But its water level has fallen within 30 feet of dead pool elevation. That is the point where water could no longer be released through the Glen Canyon Dam which would also prevent its generation of electricity. Generators at the dam produce power for parts of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska.
"We have serious challenges, and we all need to be prepared to conserve more water and use less water," said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved a plan proposed by the seven states that use the river to hold nearly 1-million-acre feet of water in the lake, which it anticipates will allow power to continue to be produced for the next year.
But as less and less snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains makes it to the river, states are having to quickly come up with mitigation strategies.
"The time frame we have to react to these things is shrinking and maybe we're trying to avoid when that next shoe is gonna drop," Buschatzke said.
In just the last six months:
- Farmers in Pinal County who use Central Arizona Project water have seen severe cuts additionally.
- Arizona, Nevada and California agreed to leave 1-million-acre feet in Lake Mead, another reservoir in the river system.
But these are changes that most of us won't notice, for now, according to Sarah Porter with the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU.
"We'll still have water coming out of our tap but there was a lot of encouragement to cities to begin trying to get people who live in Phoenix to use less water. And especially using less water outside," she said.
If drought conditions continue as expected, Porter said cities will likely start using the water they've been banking underground.
"Should the CAP deliveries be dramatically reduced cities will be turning to these reserve supplies," she said.
But with less river water available and very little precipitation, once that water is gone there are currently no viable options to replace it all.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa) said those supplies buy time to figure out how to procure more water, not just for the cities but for agriculture which uses about 74% of the state's water supply.
"I think we have the time but we're not gonna dilly dally about it," he said. "It's time to move and move at a higher speed."