Earlier this month, the federal government announced the first-ever water shortage in the Colorado River. The announcement was made on August 16, and it presents a bleak picture of the worsening global climate crisis. In recent years, the US has been experiencing a series of historic weather patterns that are largely due to the climate crisis that is gripping the globe.
The US’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, is as low as it’s ever been. It’s currently sitting at 35% capacity, just over 1,067 feet above sea level. The federal government expects Lake Mead to stay at this level into 2022, meaning that the problem isn’t likely to go away any time soon.
The situation in the Colorado River has experts calling for climate action in the US. “Like much of the West, and across our connected basins, the Colorado River is facing unprecedented and accelerating challenges,” says Tanya Trujillo, the Assistant Secretary for the Interior Department’s Water and Science division. “The only way to address these challenges and climate change is to utilize the best available science and to work cooperatively across the landscapes and communities that rely on the Colorado River.”
The cuts will affect the US states of Arizona and Nevada, which will see 18% and 7% cuts in their allotments, respectively. Mexico, meanwhile, will receive a 5% cut to its allotted amount of water from the Colorado. Should Lake Mead dip under 1,050, the cuts will become steeper and could see the arid state of the Mojave experiencing serious drawdowns in their water allotments.
The most serious impact of these allotment cuts will be on agriculture in Arizona. It’s extremely difficult to farm in Arizona without access to plentiful imported water. Rainfall totals in the region don’t allow for farming without robust irrigation. As such, many farmers are switching to crops that require less water to compensate.
Other farmers have resorted to new methods of acquiring substantial reserves of water. Some, for example, are pumping in groundwater from surrounding regions to make up the shortfall in their irrigation.
Many climate researchers have described the changing water levels in the Colorado as “troubling,” with some pointing out that this could be an indication of the potential future for more arid regions of the planet. As climate change worsens and river flows slow down and even stop, the regions with the smallest rainfall totals could experience the worst immediate impacts of climate change.