For the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the West endures an extreme drought, federal officials announced Tuesday. The Associated Press reports: The cuts planned for next year will force states to make critical decisions about where to reduce consumption and whether to prioritize growing cities or agricultural areas. The cuts will also place state officials under renewed pressure to plan for a hotter, drier future and a growing population. Mexico will also face cuts. “We are taking steps to protect the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for their lives and livelihoods,” said Camille Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.
The river provides water across seven states and in Mexico and helps feed an agricultural industry valued at $15 billion a year. Cities and farms are anxiously awaiting official estimates of the river’s future water levels that will determine the extent and scope of cuts to their water supply. That’s not all. In addition to those already-agreed-to cuts, the Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday that states had missed a deadline to propose at least 15% more cuts needed to keep water levels at the river’s storage reservoirs from dropping even more. For example, officials have predicted that water levels at Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, will plummet further. The lake is currently less than a quarter full. “The states collectively have not identified and adopted specific actions of sufficient magnitude that would stabilize the system,” Touton said.