Two of the West’s largest and most important reservoirs --- Lakes Mead and Powell --- are below 50 percent of capacity and falling, as a 14-year drought continues in the Colorado River basin.
Additionally, for the first time ever, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is slowing the flow from Powell to Mead.
“What we’ve seen in the last two years are the worst consecutive years of inflow in the last 100 years,” said Terry Fulp, Lower Colorado regional director.
“We’re going to slow Powell’s decline. That will hasten Mead’s decline. But next year, we can adjust again.”
If rain and snow doesn’t bring relief soon, lots of “adjustment” might be required for the seven states and 40 million people who depend upon the Colorado water. For example, water managers theorize that Arizona has a 50-50 chance of seeing its allotment cut by 11.4 percent in 2016 and Nevada 4.3 percent. That’s the equivalent of the water needed for 26,000 homes.
Additionally, flows vital to both recreation and ecosystems along the river will be threatened. Sport fishing and other outdoor recreation on the Colorado are worth an estimated $26 billion annually.
“We can’t simply sacrifice recreational and environmental flows when times get tough,” said Ann Castle, assistant secretary for Water and Science at the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“We know that outdoor recreation is an important driver of the Southwestern economy, just like agriculture, so we’ve got to consider all of those things together.”
The president of American Rivers, meanwhile, said that the problem is not the drought but how water in the basin is managed.
“What we need are fundamental changes in how we manage water in the Colorado basin,” said Bob Irvin. “This is the loudest wake-up all so far.”
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)