June 12, 2023 — Following a much-needed surge in winter precipitation, water managers in the Colorado River system are shifting their focus towards long-term strategies to tackle the looming challenges posed by the river’s predicted decline.
Nevada Prepares for Potential Water Shortages.
The state of Nevada is setting the stage for potential water restrictions in response to possible further decreases in its share of Colorado River water. Governor Joe Lombardo last week approved a law enabling the Southern Nevada Water Authority to limit water provision to single-family residences. The law, known formerly as Assembly Bill 220 and now as Chapter 210, empowers the water authority to cap household water usage at half an acre-foot annually in the event of a federal emergency water shortage declaration. However, most homes already consume less than this proposed limit.
The officials at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, who championed the bill, maintain that they will only invoke the constraints if necessary. This would be implemented after the water authority board gives its consent to a method for reducing supply. A potential strategy might involve the use of devices that limit the water flow to residences.
Inter-state Conservation Initiative.
This legislation follows a collaborative proposal by Arizona, Nevada, and California to conserve 3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water over the next three years, to maintain the water levels in Lake Mead and avoid mandated cuts by federal water managers. This conservation strategy is contingent on federal Inflation Reduction Act funds, which are expected to be depleted in three years. The Colorado River system has been under increasing strain due to climate change, growing demand, and an extended period of drought. Arizona has committed to contribute between 50% and 60% of the total water conservation, including new conservation measures.
Towards a Permanent Agreement.
The accord struck in May between the states that rely on the Colorado River is only a temporary solution. As reported by National Public Radio, efforts are underway to reach a long-term agreement. The 30 Native American tribes in the basin who hold water rights are seeking a voice in these discussions. At a recent environmental law conference in Boulder, Colorado, tribal leaders emphasized their continued exclusion from these important decisions.
Bradley H. Udall, a Senior Water and Climate Research Scientist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center, highlighted that despite the beneficial snowmelt this year, the future of the Colorado River’s water supply remains uncertain. He proposed that Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two largest reservoirs on the river, should be managed as one unit.