On August 16, 2022, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation declared a 2a water shortage for the Southwest states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.

The reason for the announcement is the extreme drought conditions that have reduced freshwater levels at the Colorado River, Lake Mead, and Lake Powell.

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Starting in January, the three states will have to reduce their water dependency on these three water sources.

According to reporting from CNN, Arizona faces the largest reductions at “592,000 acre-feet — or approximately 21% of the state’s yearly allotment of river water.”

Some of Arizona’s leading public servants in sustainability: Tucson Mayor Regina Romero, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Former Tempe Vice-Mayor and Arizona Corporation Commission Candidate Lauren Kuby, and former State Legislator and current Congressional District Six Nominee Kirsten Engel offered their perspectives on the Department of Interior announcement.

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero

In a statement from her office on August 20, 2022, Mayor Romero wrote:

“The City of Tucson has been preparing for water supply challenges for decades. Our citizens have embraced a conservation ethic to support a sustainable and thriving community and protect our economy into the future. We have a robust and resilient water supply and we will continue to engage in conservation efforts with other partners and stakeholders to preserve and protect the Colorado River. We ask the Bureau of Reclamation to work with the states and water users basin-wide to create a plan that ensures the sustainability of the river now and in the future.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego

Responding to a request for comment from Blog for Arizona, Mayor Gallego offered:

“Phoenix continues to be a leader in water solutions vital to our residents and the economy. I joined with City Council members in voting twice this year to leave a combined 30,000 acre-feet of water we are entitled to in Lake Mead, contributing to a regional effort to mitigate immediate risks of Lake Mead dropping to unviable levels. Phoenix and our partners across the region, including the Gila River Indian Community and the City of Tucson, are committed to being part of the solution. Our short-term mitigation must be combined with continued water conservation efforts, and our decades-long trend of decreasing per capita consumption despite significant economic growth.”

Earlier, the City of Phoenix put forth a statement that read in part:

“Phoenix continues to advocate for additional collaboration throughout the Colorado River Basin and has demonstrated its commitment to sustainability and stability. In 2022 alone, Phoenix voluntarily gave up 23% of its available Colorado River entitlements to stabilize water levels in Lake Mead and help Pinal farmers who lost access to Colorado River supplies.

Phoenix stands by its commitment to providing water to 1.7 million customers and is taking proactive actions to ensure water deliveries and reduce dependence on the Colorado River. Phoenix will soon complete the Drought Pipeline Project​ at a cost of over $300 million, which will move alternate supplies to North Phoenix customers who rely on Colorado River water. Phoenix is continuously improving infrastructure and conducting ecosystem restoration in the Salt River system, which provides 60% of the city’s water. Water recycling and efficiency improvements are also important solutions.

The City declared a Stage 1 Water Alert and activated its Drought Management Plan on June 1, 2022, and is asking customers to voluntarily reduce their water use.

Since most of our water use is outdoors, watering the landscape correctly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to conserve water. If you have grass be sure to water it no more than twice a week, even during the summer.

Finding and fixing leaking faucets and toilets is the simplest way to reduce indoor water use. Visually check each faucet and toilet for leaks at least once a month.

Choose water-efficient landscaping, fixtures, and appliances when building or updating a home.​”

Arizona Corporation Commission Candidate Lauren Kuby

Also responding to a request for comment from Blog for Arizona, Corporation Commission Nominee Lauren Kuby relayed:

“With the Tier 2 shortage declaration, AZ carries a disproportionate share of reductions on the Colorado River. The situation grows direr by the week.

As we await difficult agreements among the Lower Basin states and the US Bureau of Reclamation’s plans for long-term action, our states, counties, cities, and towns must continue to take short and long-term action to conserve our most precious resource. Over $4B in federal investment from the Inflation Reduction Act is welcomed, as is the paltry $200M state commitment to conservation.

The Arizona Corporation Commission regulates 350+ non-municipal water utilities and should play a crucial role in drought planning and mitigation. The ACC needs to ensure that the water companies it regulates are responding appropriately to the historic drought, especially those who either operate outside of Active Management Areas or rely upon the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD).

It is the wild west outside of AMAs today, with zero regards for the sustainability of aquifers. Within areas dependent on the CAGRD, costs are spiking on ratepayers in order to fulfill water supply commitments in the face of growing demand and diminished supply. I have serious concerns about the long-term viability of the CAGRD and the resulting impacts on ratepayers of private water companies.

We can no longer turn away from the crisis. It’s time for Arizona to step up its game and that begins with massive conservation efforts at every level of government.”

Former State Senator Kirsten Engel

Finally, CD Six Nominee Kirsten Engel penned an op-ed for the Arizona Daily Star where she credited the Biden/Harris Administration for finally addressing the water shortage issue but also rebuking it for not spreading the pain to all the southwestern states when they excluded California from the Tier2a notice.

In portions of her piece, she wrote:

“Once again, Arizona is bearing the brunt of a national, indeed a global, crisis. The Colorado River, the lifeblood of 40 million Americans, is in peril. Long known to be over-allocated, unprecedented climate change-driven drought is today finally forcing a reckoning that drastic cuts will be required to preserve the once mighty river.

Climate change makes this everyone’s problem. But inaction by President Biden’s Department of the Interior has made it Arizona’s problem.

The good news is that the Biden administration can require cuts to be taken equitably from all Lower Basin states, and importantly, from the river’s biggest water user, California. The bad news is that it has failed to follow through on its promise to do so. The even worse news is that, as a result, Arizona will be forced to continue to sacrifice more, while California and other states continue to use water in a crisis. This unfair distinction will carry far-reaching and harmful consequences for farmers, municipalities, and future generations…

…Time is not on our side. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are barely above one-quarter of their capacity. If they fall much lower, they will be unable to generate hydroelectric power for millions in the West. The most effective and least disruptive steps — building more storage capacity, switching to less water-intensive farming practices, adopting water reuse and recycling programs, retrofitting homes and businesses with water-efficient appliances — all need time to develop, fund and implement.

Luckily we now have $4 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act and over $8 billion from the Infrastructure Act to help us do so. But the further delay will shrink our options to the most short-term reduction measures available — measures such as paying farmers to fallow their fields year by year — rather than those that permanently transition our economy to a less water-intensive future.

Arizona is paying the price of the delay in increasingly bigger water cuts. Under the 2019 Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), in 2023 Arizona must cut a fifth of its entire allocation. And California? Zero. Granted, California must shoulder future cuts should Lake Mead continue to drop, but this will occur only after Arizona has reduced nearly 800,000 acre-feet of water in mandatory cuts together with voluntary cuts negotiated with Tribal governments and others.

The DCP (which I supported as a member of the Arizona Legislature) was critical to keeping Lake Mead’s water levels up while we waited for a 2026 renegotiation of the River’s management guidelines. But recent events have made clear that the situation is much more dire than then understood and the DCP-mandated cuts are plainly insufficient to get us to 2023, much less 2026. Bigger cuts are required and they will need to come from other Basin states, most importantly, California.

Nature, economics, and fairness all argue in favor of the Biden administration acting quickly to provide at least the framework of an equitable plan requiring the states and Mexico collectively reduce 2-4 million acre-feet from their Colorado River diversions. The river can’t wait, and nor can we in Arizona.”

Mayors Romero and Gallego, along with their predecessors and members of their City Councils, need to be commended for taking proactive steps over the last several years to meet this water shortage eventuality and for developing strategies for moving forward.

At least they are not adopting government policies like a certain Arizona Republican Governor and his party to allow Saudi Arabia to waste the water supply farming for alfalfa crops on Arizona land at extremely favorable discounted rates and sending the food back to the Middle East to feed cows.

Both Kuby and Engel are correct when they say time is running out to address this issue. Climate change and the drought, despite the recent Monsoon rains, are not going away for the foreseeable future.

Engel is also right to assert that California should share the pain along with the other three states. It is astounding the Biden/Harris Administration did not include them. It is not like California is going to turn red any time soon. The Administration needs to reconsider excluding California and take more proactive steps to stem this crisis which is only going to get worse, at least in the short term.

It is time for everyone to come together and adopt sensible conservation strategies like some of those mentioned in the City of Phoenix statement (reducing landscape water usage and inspecting leaking faucets, toilets, and shower heads.)

This is a crisis that can be solved but only if everyone and every state do their part.

 

 

 

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