Lakes Mead and Powell at about 40 percent capacity; deadline approaching for Colorado River drought plan

Lightning strikes over Lake Mead near Hoover Dam that impounds Colorado River water at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona, July 28, 2014 | Associated Press file photo by John Locher, St. George News

LAS VEGAS (AP) — With drought entering a second decade and reservoirs continuing to shrink, seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the overtaxed Colorado River for crop irrigation and drinking water had been expected to ink a crucial share-the-pain contingency plan by the end of 2018.

They’re not going to make it — at least not in time for upcoming meetings in Las Vegas involving representatives from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the U.S. government, officials say.

Arizona has been the holdout, with farmers, cities, Indian tribes and lawmakers in the state set to be first to feel the pinch still negotiating how to deal with water cutbacks when a shortage is declared, probably in 2020.

“There will be cuts. We all know the clock is ticking. That’s what a lot of the difficult negotiations have been around,” said Kim Mitchell, Western Resource Advocates water policy adviser and a delegate to ongoing meetings involving the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project, agricultural, industrial and business interests, the governor, state lawmakers and cities including Tucson and Phoenix.

In Arizona, unlike other states, a final drought contingency plan will have to pass the state Legislature when it convenes in January.

Federal water managers wanted a deal to sign at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference beginning Wednesday in Las Vegas and threatened earlier this year to impose unspecified measures from the District of Columbia if a voluntary drought contingency plan wasn’t reached.

However, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman is signaling that the agency that controls the levers on the river is willing to wait. She is scheduled to talk to the conference on Thursday.

A riverboat glides through Lake Mead on the Colorado River at Hoover Dam near Boulder City, Nev., Oct. 14, 2015 | Associated Press file photo by Jae C. Hong, St. George News

“Reclamation remains cautiously optimistic that the parties will find a path forward,” the bureau said in a statement on Friday, “because finding a consensus deal recognizing the risks of continuing drought and the benefits of a drought contingency plan is in each state’s best interest.”

The Colorado River water supports about 40 million people and millions of acres of farmland in the U.S. and Mexico.

After 19 years of drought and increasing demand, federal water managers project a 52 percent chance that the river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam, will fall low enough to trigger cutbacks under agreements governing the system.

The seven states saw this coming years ago and used Colorado River Water Users Association meetings in December 2007 to sign a 20-year “guidelines” plan to share the burden of a shortage.

Contingency agreements would update that pact, running through 2026. They call for voluntarily using less to keep more water in the system’s two main reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Lake Powell upstream from of the Grand Canyon is currently at 43 percent capacity; Lake Mead, downstream, is at 38 percent.

Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, the river’s Upper Basin states, aim to keep the surface of Lake Powell above a target level to continue water deliveries to irrigation districts and cities and also keep hydroelectric turbines humming at Glen Canyon Dam.

The Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada aim to keep Lake Mead above a shortage declaration trigger point by using less water than they’re legally entitled to.

If Lake Mead falls below that level, Arizona will face a 9 percent reduction in water supply, Nevada a 3 percent cut and California up to 8 percent. Mexico’s share of river water would also be reduced.

Water officials in most states — from the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas to the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, Colorado — have signed off on plans in recent weeks.

In Arizona, the board governing the Central Arizona Project irrigation system approved the Lower Basin plan Thursday.

The Glen Canyon Dam and the beginning of Lake Powell as seen from the Glen Canyon Bridge, Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona, Jan. 2, 2018 | File photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

In California, the sprawling Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves some 19 million people, is set to approve it Tuesday.

Board members there were reminded the agreements are only a short-term fix.

According to a board briefing, the Bureau of Reclamation, seven basin states and water contractors will begin negotiating again beginning no later than 2020.

“That process is expected to result in new rules for management and operation of the Colorado River after 2026,” the board briefing said.

Written by KEN RITTER, Associated Press.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • iceplant December 9, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    If the Powell pipeline project goes through you can rest assured the water levels will plummet. We’re raping this planet past the point of recovery.

    • tazzman December 9, 2018 at 4:54 pm

      Taking water out of a man-made reservoir is not raping the planet.

      • iceplant December 9, 2018 at 6:13 pm

        Lake Powell is just one example. One.
        Man-made or not it was built for a purpose and that purpose is failing and will get even worse. Are you okay with that?

        • mesaman December 9, 2018 at 7:45 pm

          The sky is falling the sky is falling.

          • iceplant December 9, 2018 at 8:50 pm

            Is that what you have to tell yourself to explain the voices in your head?

          • tcrider December 10, 2018 at 8:46 am

            tic toc messed up man, keep telling yourself
            its a 20 year drought , it does not matter if you
            believe in climate change or not but things are changing,
            like the ratio of younger voters in this fine church run state.

          • tazzman December 10, 2018 at 3:04 pm

            Younger voters never vote in large numbers. They also grow older. Believing in the “youth vote” has never been the boon Dems like to think it is. It makes a static argument.

            By the way, climate change is real and is at least enhanced by man made activities. That the science does show. I agree with that.

            But please stop on this “Utah will become liberal once the youngins take over” stuff.

        • tazzman December 10, 2018 at 3:11 pm

          No, I am not okay with that, but not because I think taking water out of a reservoir = raping the planet. The destruction if Glen Canyon came when they dammed the Colorado at Glen Canyon to begin with. The Sierra Club really messed that up by stopping the dam at Echo Park and overlooking Glen Canyon. They should drain Powell and keep Mead for storage. California and Nevada can get their hydroelectric elsewhere. Restore Glen Canyon!

      • An actual Independent December 10, 2018 at 2:46 pm

        Of course it is. Just the act of building the reservoir destroyed the natural river system. The river hasn’t actually reached the ocean in decades. Now we’ve created this monstrosity of a “water storage facility” with a ridiculous amount of evaporation loss. But that’s not enough so we need to use more water than even exists.

        • tazzman December 10, 2018 at 3:07 pm

          You don’t understand what I am saying. The man made reservoir was the “raping” not taking the water out of it afterwards. Powell submerged one of the greatest natural wonders in the world, Glen Canyon. iceplants argument that taking water out Powell is a bit late. GC dam and Powell is already there. Taking water out of it = raping the planet is off the mark.

          • tcrider December 10, 2018 at 3:39 pm

            its really not rape if both parties conclude it was consensual.
            and the future is not as black and white as you might think it is, for example
            conservatives and liberals, the latest stats are showing that independents
            are actually gaining some ground. If you want to think everyone that is not a
            conservative is a Lib, thats your business, but you should really check out some other
            news sources besides fox news.

          • tazzman December 10, 2018 at 4:29 pm

            Dang, you are way off the mark on my news sources. Nice bubble you float in.

  • Not_So_Much December 9, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Damn the torpedoes (also known as facts), it’s full speed ahead on the Lake Powell Pipeline!

  • Carpe Diem December 10, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Utah will need a $500 million extension to the Powell Pipeline – put that puppy up to Dangling Rope.

    • tazzman December 10, 2018 at 3:01 pm

      Hahah! Or Hite at this rate. Oops, wont work at Hite either.

  • utahdiablo December 19, 2018 at 10:11 pm

    “Lake Powell upstream from of the Grand Canyon is currently at 43 percent capacity; Lake Mead, downstream, is at 38 percent.”….soooo.yeah, let’s build the damn pipeline and screw the southern Utah Taxpayers forever to pay for it? …and let’s keep building here like there is no tomorrow, as there will not be when the water runs dry….enjoy the future folks, it’s coming sooner than you can imagine

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