Federal government cutting Colorado River water to states

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Last week, the federal government announced water cuts to states that rely on the Colorado River, including Arizona. Drought and climate change have led to less water flowing through the river, and reservoirs are being depleted.

Farmers in central Arizona will largely shoulder the cuts, as they did this year. Under Tuesday’s reductions, Arizona is expected to lose slightly more water than it did this year, when 18% of its supply was cut. In 2023, it will lose an additional 3%, an aggregate 21% reduction from its initial allocation.

The shortage is known as a “Tier 2.” It was just a year ago that the Department of the Interior declared the first shortage on the Colorado River — a Tier 1. But the past 12 months did not being enough rain and snow to do much good.

“A fifth of our water supply basically is staying back in Lake Mead to stave off these falling water levels,” said Kathryn Sorensen, the Director of Research at the Kyl Center for Water Policy. New Mexico is being cut at 7%, Nevada at 8%, Arizona at 21%, and California is not being cut at all.

“California has some of the most senior rights to Colorado River water,” she said.

Sorensen said that if farmers are worried, to remember that legally they are allowed to pump ground water. “That has it’s own implication for the future,” she said. “Basically farmers are allowed to rely on groundwater, and continue to do so.” She said they may need to rely on groundwater even more now.

The cuts being made will start in January. Sorensen said the voluntary cuts that were made, just were not enough.

These cuts are leaving the state with many challenges and difficult decisions to come on how to conserve for a drier future.

Kathryn Sorensen/Director of Research Kyl Center for Water Policy

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