2023-24: Colorado River & Arizona water report

Central Arizona Project canal that carries Colorado River water
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December 29, 2023 — The Central Arizona Project and Arizona Department of Water Resources jointly issued an end-of-the-year report about the status of the Colorado River systemOpens in a new tab. from the perspective of Arizona water planning.

Current Challenges.

Last year, the Colorado River Basin faced a severe Tier 2a water shortage. The situation was critical at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the Basin’s primary reservoirs, prompting the Bureau of Reclamation to consider modifying operations to stabilize water levels.

Recent Developments.

In 2023, increased snowpack and runoff helped delay a crisis. However, ongoing conservation was necessary. Arizona, California, and Nevada proposed a plan to conserve significant water in Lake Mead, which was then included in the Bureau’s revised Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). A final decision on this is expected in spring 2024.

Arizona’s Conservation Efforts.

Arizona has actively conserved water, saving nearly 950,000 acre-feet in 2023. This includes a mandatory reduction and additional voluntary contributions, demonstrating significant progress toward the Lower Basin States’ conservation goals.

Shortage Update for 2024.

Thanks to better hydrology and conservation, the 2024 forecast has improved from a predicted Tier 3 shortage to a Tier 1 shortage. Arizona will still need to reduce water usage by 512,000 acre-feet, representing a significant portion of its total water use.

Looking Ahead.

Guidelines for water sharing and drought contingency plans are set to expire in 2026. Recent hydrological improvements and conservation efforts have temporarily stabilized the Colorado River Basin, allowing time to negotiate new guidelines. A new approach to managing reductions based on the total water available in the Basin’s reservoirs is being considered, aiming to provide more predictability and equitable sharing of reductions and benefits.

As discussions continue and new strategies are proposed, updates will be provided, particularly as the Bureau of Reclamation prepares an Environmental Impact Statement for post-2026 operations. Stay informed with the Central Arizona Project’s River Updates section of Know Your Water News.

Image:  Central Arizona Project canalOpens in a new tab. in Scottsdale, Arizona from the bridge on Via Linda just north of Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard.  Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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