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Shortage avoided in 2017 due to collaborative conservation efforts

Lingering drought and demand from growing cities have lowered water levels on Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. The U.S. Interior Department could declare a shortage on the Colorado River as early as 2017. (U.S. Geological Survey Photo)

Lake Mead (U.S. Geological Survey Photo)

This week the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released the news that there will not be a shortage on the Colorado River in 2017. This positive declaration can be attributed to water left behind in Lake Mead by CAP and its partners. However, Reclamation’s projection shows that without additional conservation actions, 2018 could be the first year of shortage on the Colorado River. CAP and its local and interstate partners are working to extend existing conservation tools to avoid shortage in 2018, and to develop longer-term solutions to address the risks of critical shortages on the Colorado River.

In response to extended drought in the Colorado River Basin which is increasing the risks of shortage to Arizona and the Central Arizona Project (CAP), CAP and its partners throughout the Colorado River Basin system have been voluntarily leaving water in Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir. By the end of this year, these collaborative efforts will have boosted the lake by almost six feet, the difference between being in a shortage and not being in a shortage.

Ted Cooke (Central Arizona Project Photo by Philip A. Fortnam)

Ted Cooke (Central Arizona Project Photo by Philip A. Fortnam)

For the past few years CAP has been working with the federal government, partner states, and Mexico to address the structural deficit, the imbalance between supply and demand on the Colorado River that results in more water being taken out of Lake Mead than is flowing in. The structural deficit has been causing the lake level to fall approximately 12 feet per year.

CAP and its partners have been addressing the structural deficit on three levels – reducing demand (conservation), increasing supply (augmentation) and implementing system efficiencies. Two programs – a Memorandum of Understanding and Pilot Conservation Program – have made the difference.

In late 2014, CAP and the Arizona Department of Water Resources executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and municipal water agencies in California and Nevada. The agreement identified the need for proactive and voluntary actions to develop between 1.5 to 3 million acre-feet of new water for Lake Mead by the end of 2019. CAP is making significant contributions by storing 345,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead, completing its contribution this year. To make this contribution possible CAP has entered into agreements with eleven irrigation districts in central Arizona to reduce their use of CAP water CAP is also working with the City of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale, and Peoria to replace a portion of their CAP water delivery with local supplies held by CAP, thus reducing the use of Colorado River water and conserving water in Lake Mead.

Another beneficial undertaking has been the landmark Pilot System Conservation Program, aimed at funding water-efficiency projects capable of effectively reducing demands on the Colorado River and bolstering water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The program was recognized by the White House earlier this year as an example of a collaborative program that can address long-term water supply risks in the Colorado River system. Examples of projects already underway include enhancing agricultural irrigation systems, removing turf grass, forgoing underground storage and expanding water reuse.

These efforts have proven successful in avoiding shortages in 2016 and 2017. However, current projections indicate a shortage in 2018, unless existing conservation actions are extended.

“It is a remarkable accomplishment to know that our willingness to make the hard decision and voluntarily leave water in the lake made the difference to avoid a shortage next year,” says Tom Buschatzke, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director. “Still it’s not enough. We’ll continue to take additional actions to protect the health of the Colorado River.”

CAP is committed to continuing current conservation programs. In addition, CAP following the leadership of the Arizona Department of Water Resources is working to develop new programs, in cooperation with Reclamation, California, Nevada, and Mexico to address the longer-term risks in the Colorado River system.

Through these combined efforts, by the end of this year CAP and its Arizona stakeholders will have conserved more than 380,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water stored in Lake Mead, enough to stave off shortage for another year despite a long-term drought, all through conservation and cooperation which are crucial to sustain our quality of life and economic future.

“The spirit of collaboration demonstrated by CAP’s stakeholders is the reason Arizona has been successfully meeting the aggressive conservation goals to leave more water in Lake Mead than any other state,” says CAP Board President Lisa Atkins.

While our previous efforts have proven successful, we are committed to doing more to protect the Colorado River, and the communities we serve.

Together, CAP and its partners are improving the health of the Colorado River and the prospects for continuing an adequate supply to the people it serves.

Ted Cooke is General Manager for the Central Arizona Project.

One comment

  1. Indeed, good news. But don’t pop the corks yet. Eventually, the success of conservation efforts will depend on how those efforts will affect our collective bottom lines. Greater, more meaningful incentives built into water rates for both commercial and residential customers throughout the state are needed. And the same holds true for the agricultural customers. Today’s rate structures don’t make it “painful” to waste water.

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