Update to Arizona Legislature Is Failing To Address Arizona’s Looming Water Crisis (Updated):

The Arizona legislature really only had two priorities to deal with in this legislative session: (1) the school funding cliff that they created last session, and (2) the looming water crisis Arizona faces from a prolonged megadrought due to climate change.

[W]hat about that second priority, dealing with the looming water crisis Arizona faces from a prolonged megadrought due to climate change? U.S. megadrought worst in at least 1,200 years, researchers say. There has been no serious action by the legislature, and the month of May and our long summer heat season is upon us.

The Arizona Mirror reports, Federal agency warns Colorado River Basin water usage could be cut as drought worsens:

The federal agency in charge of managing much of the West’s water warned Tuesday that it will act unilaterally to reduce water usage in the Colorado River Basin if state and tribal leaders can’t reach an agreement this summer.

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille C. Touton told a U.S. Senate committee that states within the region will need to cut usage between 2 and 4 million acre feet in 2023 to protect the Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs.

Joanna Allands of The Republic explains:

If we were to carry out every cut contemplated in the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which applies to Arizona, California and Nevada, that would amount to 1.1 million acre-feet of water.

That means the full basin would need to conserve at least twice as much as the deepest levels of shortage for which our three states have planned. In the best-case scenario.

And we’ll need to agree on a plan to do so in about eight weeks – or else, the feds will act for us.

For now, Touton said, the bureau is “pursuing a path of partnership,” though she noted the agency has the authority “to act unilaterally to protect the system.”

“There is so much to this that is unprecedented and that is true. But unprecedented is now the reality and the normal in which Reclamation must manage our systems,” she testified. “A warmer, drier West is what we are seeing today.”

Touton said the Bureau of Reclamation is currently prioritizing short-term actions to prevent Lakes Mead and Powell from reaching dead pool, a condition where water levels get so low they can’t flow past a dam.

“This is the priority for us, between the next 60 days to figure out a plan to close that gap,” she said.

The Colorado River Basin covers more than 250,000 square miles and provides water to Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Extreme drought

The hearing in front of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee gathered together officials from the Environmental Defense Fund, the Family Farm Alliance and the Southern Nevada Water Authority to look at short- and long-term solutions for extreme drought.

John J. Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told panel members that while the situation is bleak, it’s not unsolvable.

“I can assure you from on the ground that the ominous tenor of recent media reports is warranted,” Entsminger said. “What has been a slow motion train wreck for 20 years is accelerating and the moment of reckoning is near.”

The solution, he said, is working toward “a degree of demand management previously considered unattainable.”

Entsminger pointed to his home state of Nevada as an example for others in the region to follow, noting that while the state’s population has increased by 800,000 people during the last two decades, its water consumption dropped by 26%.

Nevada, which gets 1.8% of the Colorado River Basin’s water allocation, has paid residents to remove grass, set a mandatory irrigation schedule and enforced water waste rules.

He said that long-term solutions cannot just focus on residential and urban water use, but must include changes to how farms operate in the region.

Eighty percent of the Colorado River’s water allocation is used for agriculture and 80% of that is used for forage crops like alfalfa, Entsminger testified.

“I’m not suggesting that farmers stop farming. But rather that they carefully consider crop selection and make the investments needed to optimize irrigation efficiency,” he said.

Patrick O’Toole, president of the Family Farm Alliance, told U.S. lawmakers that he believes water storage and improving forest health [???] are important steps to addressing severe, ongoing drought in the West.

The Alliance formed three decades ago to “ensure the availability of reliable, affordable irrigation water supplies to Western farmers and ranchers” in 17 states.

The first major forest fire this year is currently burning near Flagstaff, and there will be others with Monsoon lghtning season. The past two decades have seen Arizona’s worst series of forest fires. Climate change and warming are destroying our forests with the process of aridification. Relying on “improved forest health” is just climate denialism and a pipe dream.

O’Toole cautioned that taking water away from farms would increase the amount of food the United States needs to import from other countries.

80% of Arizona’s ag water is used for forage crops like alfalfa (for cattle). If you are truly concerned about food supplies, this water should go to California: California’s agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities. Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California.

“We are about to do with agriculture what we did with manufacturing and let it go overseas,” O’Toole testified.

This climate denialist talks like this is a zero sum game, “If we don’t grow it, someone else will.” This is detached from reality. Climate change is a global phenonomenon and is impacting agriculture around the world. Third of global food production at risk from climate crisis:

A third of global food production will be at risk by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current rate, new research suggests.

Many of the world’s most important food-growing areas will see temperatures increase and rainfall patterns alter drastically if temperatures rise by about 3.7C, the forecast increase if emissions stay high.

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have calculated that about 95% of current crop production takes place in areas they define as “safe climatic space”, or conditions where temperature, rainfall and aridity fall within certain bounds.

If temperatures were to rise by 3.7C or thereabouts by the century’s end, that safe area would shrink drastically, mostly affecting south and south-eastern Asia and Africa’s Sudano-Sahelian zone, according to a paper published in the journal One Earth on Friday.


New Mexico Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich, a member of the panel, pushed back against the committee using the term drought to refer to the situation in Western states, using aridification instead.

That word refers to a region gradually moving to a drier climate, whereas drought often refers to a shorter term reduction in water.

“This is not some random event, it’s frankly a direct result of the lack of action on climate that we have seen for more than 20 years,” Heinrich said. “And we all collectively own that.”

Again, Joanna Allands of The Republic explains:

Arizona has junior water rights on the river, which means technically, we are first in line for cuts. But Arizona’s annual appropriation is 2.8 million acre-feet, and this year we’re only using about 2 million acre-feet of it. The rest is already in Lake Mead, in the form of mandatory cuts and voluntary savings.

If the full basin is supposed to save up to 4 million acre-feet, relying on Arizona alone won’t get us there. And fully cutting the 2 million acre-feet we are using would have devastating consequences.

The Central Arizona Project would dry up; no water would flow through its canals to metro Phoenix and Tucson. That might not immediately shut off taps in cities like Phoenix and Tempe, but it certainly would put the other sources on which they rely – renewable supplies from the Salt and Verde rivers and a finite pool of groundwater – under considerably more stress.

Zeroing out Arizona’s Colorado River allocation also would severely impact Yuma farmers, which supply the nation with veggies and salad greens in the winter.

[It] must be noted that saving 2 million to 4 million acre-feet next year won’t rebuild Lake Mead or Lake Powell; it just keeps them from falling to the point where hydropower can no longer be generated.

This is not a solution. It’s not even a Band-Aid. It’s emergency surgery to stop the hemorrhaging, with the prognosis of the patient to be decided later.

Yes, maybe we should have heeded the warnings about our health decades ago, so we didn’t end up on the operating table. But we’re all here now, and we better make the most of it.

Arizona’s economic model since the end of World War II has always relied on rapid, uncontrolled  (and unsustainable) growth. This economic model should now come to an end with our water crisis. Without a stable water supply, we cannot continue to bring even more people into the state. We may not even be able to sustain the population we currenty have.

Expect to hear “building moratorium” from the lips of longtime residents who want to slam the door shut to any new arrivals. We may even see Arizona residents become “climate refugees” and begin fleeing the state to other parts of the country with a more sustainable environment. This should force a reckoning with Arizona’s outdated and unsustainable economic model. We need to reimagine a new sustainable economic model based upon scarce resources and a declining population, as the Great Lake states have had to do for the past 40 years. (Maybe it’s time for you snowbird transplants from these states to consider moving back).

The Arizona Mirror adds, Water shortages threaten development throughout the West:

As the Western United States endures an ongoing megadrought that has spanned more than two decades, an increasing number of cities, towns and water districts are being forced to say no to new growth.

There’s just not enough water to go around.

[A] water district serving mountain communities in Arizona announced in March that it had issued a moratorium on new connections. Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District has struggled with increasing demands from residential and vacation rental properties, The Arizona Republic reported. The water table has fallen below most of the district’s shallower wells, and much of the water that is pumped is lost to leaky infrastructure.

The district is seeking to drill deeper wells and fix its leaks, but it said the moratorium was necessary to buy time to address the problems.

In Utah, the city of St. George has expressed concern about its ability to grow if a pipeline to pump water from Lake Powell is not approved.

“We cannot afford to build beyond what our water supply will allow,” City Manager Adam Lenhard told the St. George News.

Lenhard said the city could ban new building permits, but such a restriction could only last six months under state law. Several other communities in Utah have paused construction due to water shortages.

I do not expect any sustainable agreement to be reached among the Colorado Basin states. The Feds are going to step in as soon as August, and then the shit is going to hit the proverbial fan. Arizona residents had better wake up to our water crisis – the moment of reckoning is near.