Colorado River flow peaking early while Arizona drought expands
May 16, 2018
Experts within Arizona’s water management talk about the impact of the Colorado River peaking early and how it may affect the state’s current drought.
In the 85 years of records kept by the Colorado River Conservation District, only three other years – 1977, 2002 and 2012 – have seen lower levels. This year’s peak may become the third earliest peak in history.
Tom Buschatke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, says it’s 50 percent likely that 2020 will see water levels a foot below where they need to be. Arizona is accustomed to seeing historic flows over the last hundred years, but it’s not something the state should count on this time.
Lake Powell, which rests along the border of Arizona and Utah, is expected to receive only 42 percent of its average flow from the Colorado River. The river serves about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland.
“[In order to help the drought] we’ve re-managed reservoir supplies,” Associate General Manager of SRP Water Resources Dave Roberts says. “We’ve take a proactive approach. If next winter doesn’t look good, then we might have to re-up groundwater pumping.”
Buschatke says the early peaking is an indicator of climate change and an increase in temperatures. This last winter the state didn’t see a lot of snow, which had major repercussions. The soil the trees and plants rest in wasn’t able to stay moist which not only damaged the vegetation, but it also made the areas more susceptible to fire.
“Water managers are taking action to control this as much as possible,” Buschatke says. “We will need to do more conservation efforts.”
Roberts is remaining positive because Arizona has a strong history of good water management. Leaders in water management are currently looking at desalinization as a possible solution, Roberts says. Desalinization is a process that removes salt from water to make it drinkable. It’s been a viable answer in California and Mexico. It’s all a matter of technology efficiency.