The Colorado River in an 'Era of Limits'

New agreements and the first cutbacks in water usage signal the start of concerted efforts keep the river and reservoirs from dropping to dangerous levels.

1 minute read

August 26, 2019, 11:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink

Hoover Dam

Joseph Krueger / Flickr

Ian James reports that water deliveries from the Colorado River will be reduced for Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico next year. Projections show that the water level of Lake Mead, which is now 39 percent full, will drop to below threshold levels at the start of the year. California and Mexico have also agreed to contribute water to the reservoir if levels continue to drop.

"The Colorado River’s reservoirs have dropped dramatically since 2000 during one of the most extreme droughts in centuries. Farms and cities across the Southwest have long been taking more from the river than what flows into it, and climate change is adding to the strains by pushing up temperatures," notes James.

This is the first time such restrictions have gone into place. Even with a winter of heavy snows that increased runoff into Lake Mead, reduced stream flow and more evaporation in past years from rising temperatures were pointing to future shortages.

"[Jennifer Pitt] said having the drought agreement in place now gives water managers several years to study scenarios of extremes, and come up with new rules to 'create the resilience that we need in the Colorado River basin to respond to whatever conditions are coming our way,'" notes James.

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