Federal Government to Begin Regulating Colorado River Due to Historic Water Shortages

by mcardinal

Justin Bullock, FISM News


The federal government has announced that it will regulate water taken from the Colorado river as it has experienced historic water shortages due to extreme drought and historically high temperatures across the American West. The cutbacks were triggered by levels in the Lake Mead reservoir which serves as a gauge of water supply for the region. The lake is the country’s largest reservoir and currently sits at 35 % capacity – the lowest level since it was created in the 1930s. The shortages can be seen by the general public as there is a white “bathtub ring” around the reservoir that shows where the water levels once were.

The shortage at Lake Mead constitutes a Tier 1 shortage of water. As a result, states will be limited on the water that they can divert from the Colorado river. Arizona will have the heaviest restrictions with a 20% cutback. Farmers in the region will be severely impacted by the cutbacks as they heavily rely on the river for irrigation.

Lake Mead also provides a vital supply of water to close to approximately 25 million Americans in the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas. In response, ten governors from Western states wrote a letter to President Biden asking for emergency federal drought aid as states are devastated by the widespread drought, high temperatures, and their effects on the region. The governors wrote,

Thousands of farmers in our states are experiencing devastating impacts from our ongoing drought. Although we appreciate the funding available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Farm Service Agency (FSA) and other sources, many of our local FSA offices are overburdened with requests and unable to help on the scale we need. Hay prices have skyrocketed, ranchers are selling off their livestock and others are considering selling prime agricultural lands for development. At this point there is little to no animal feed across much of the west, requiring farmers to import feed from out of state. Without substantial assistance, rural economies in our states that rely heavily on agriculture and natural resources will take years to recover from the effects of this devastating drought. Beyond the impact on those industries and communities, the drought will have serious downstream impacts on the security of our food, fiber and energy production, both regionally and nationally. Those impacts include low or dried up reservoirs, increased algal blooms, a decrease in hydroelectric power and the potential of shuttering hydroelectric dams because of low water levels. Some drought-impacted communities are already running out of drinking water, a situation that could become much more widespread with prolonged drought. Additional impacts are being felt by local economies reliant on the recreational economies developed around large reservoirs in our states. These economies have already suffered lost revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are now being devastated below water levels that preclude access and recreation on these waters.