Man-made lakes supplying water to millions of people in the West of the US and Mexico are projected to ease historic lows in the coming months, which could trigger the federal government’s first official reduction announcement and quick cuts in Arizona. And Nevada.
The US Bureau of Reclamation released 24-month estimates this week that Colorado River water will flow from the Rocky Mountains through Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and into the arid deserts of the US southwest and the Gulf of California. The Colorado River water supply is threatened by the fact that cities and farms rely on it, with water levels in the two lakes expected to be low enough for the agency to declare an official reduction for the first time.
This climate change means that the river and its tributaries have less snowfall, and warmer temperatures cause the tanned soil and more river water to evaporate as it flows into the drought-ridden American West.
The agency’s model project Lake Mead will fall below 1,075 feet (328 m) for the first time in June 2021. This is the level that promotes the declaration of scarcity under agreements negotiated by seven states that rely on the waters of the Colorado River: Arizona, California, Colorado. Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
However, the April estimates will not have a binding effect. Federal officials regularly issue long-term estimates, but use those issued each August to make decisions about how to allocate river water. If the estimates do not improve, the Bureau of Reclamation will declare a Level 1 deficiency. The deduction will be implemented in January.
Arizona, Nevada and Mexico voluntarily release water under a drought contingency plan for the river signed in 2019. A short declaration would subject the two states of the US to their first mandatory deduction. Both rely on the Colorado River more than any other water source, and Arizona loses about a third of its supply.
Water agency officials say they are relying on their preparedness measures, including conservation and looking for alternative sources that will allow them to face cuts if there is a possibility of a drought.
“The study, while important, is not a surprise. It shows the effects of drought and warm conditions in the Colorado River basin this year, as well as the effects of prolonged drought that affect Colorado River water supplies Is, ”officials said. The Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project said in a joint statement.
In Nevada, the agency that supplies water to most in the state has created “straws” to draw water from below into Lake Mead, with their levels declining. It has also created a credit system, where it can put the recycled water back into the reservoir, without calculating its allocation.
Colby Pellegrino, director of water resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, assured customers that the preparedness measures would protect them from the effects of the cuts. But she warned that more action was needed.
“It is foreseen to find ways to protect all users of the Colorado River,” Pellegrino said in a statement.
The Bureau of Reclamation also speculated that Lake Mead would fall to the point where they had worried in the past that electricity production in the Hoover Dam could be threatened. Hydropower serves millions of customers in Arizona, California and Nevada.
To prepare for the future with less water, the bureau has spent 10 years replacing five of the 17 turbines built to build the dam that rotates to generate electricity. Len Shilling, a dam manager with the bureau, said the addition of wide-headed turbines allows the dam to operate more efficiently at lower water levels. He said the turbines would be capable of generating electricity at a point called “deadpool” when there would not be enough water for the dam to function.
But Schilling noted that less water through the Hoover Dam means less hydropower to go around.
He said, “When the elevation in the lake decreases, our power decreases, because we put less water on the turbines.”
The cost of hydroelectricity is significantly lower than the energy sold in the wholesale electricity market as the government only charges customers for the cost of production and dam maintenance.
Lincoln County Power District General Manager Dave Luttrell said infrastructure updates, reduced hydropower from the Hoover Dam and supplemental power from other sources such as natural gas and concerned customers in his rural Nevada district.
“Rural economies in Arizona and Nevada survive by hydroelectricity and are built in the Hoover Dam. This may not be a big deal for NV Energy,” he said of Nevada’s biggest utility. “This loss. The Angeles Department of Water and Electricity may have a decimal point. But for Lincoln County, it makes a huge impact. “