Arizona’s allocation of Colorado River water is slashed

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 8:20 PM MST|Updated: Aug. 17, 2022 at 6:31 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Bureau of Reclamation has cut Arizona’s share of water from Lake Mead by 21%.

It’s an unprecedented Tier II cut, the first ever.

Arizona will now have to forfeit 592,000-acre-feet of Colorado River water a year. That’s about six times the amount of water Tucson uses in a year.

The federal government gave the seven states which receive Colorado River water until Aug. 16 to come up with a plan to cut 2-4 million acre-feet of usage or it would make the cuts itself.

The states failed to agree on a plan so the cuts were made to two states, Arizona and Nevada, along with Mexico. California, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were not cut.

Arizona gets cut first because it’s considered junior status when it comes to water deliveries from the river.

“When Arizona wanted to get federal authorization of the Central Arizona Project, Arizona had to agree to junior status,” said Sharon Megdal, the Director of the Water Research Center at the University of Arizona.

Tier II cuts will not affect most municipalities, such as Tucson, but will affect the agriculture communities hard.

So much so, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema helped secure $4 billion to help farmers who will be facing severe water cuts.

“So this legislation is going to allow us to help provide some compensation in the short term to farmers who may have to have their fields go fallow for a short period of time,” Sinema said.

The definition of a short period of time may change unless there’s some relief from Mother Nature.

“Things have deteriorated in a way that wasn’t anticipated,” Megdal said. “I think people have been hoping for the best.”

The river is being sucked dry faster than the experts predicted leading to cuts that were anticipated in the late 2020s. The drought has been more severe and is the longest in 1,200 years.

“There’s going to be cutbacks in deliveries to more customers, it means less water, it’s that simple,” Megdal said. “You know, there’s no way to color it in a happy color.”

While residential customers won’t see cutbacks for the time being, it’s a strong wake-up call.

“The river system is in poor health,” Megdal said. “We’re in a crisis of low flows.”

Residential customers will likely be facing restrictions in the not too distant future.

“So it means lifestyle changes, significant lifestyle changes,” said Tucson councilman Steve Kozachik.

He will be proposing a new set of guidelines for water use to the mayor and council in September.

“The other thing people need to get ready for is the fact that right now the cost of water at the residential level is a gift,” he said. “We are simply not paying what it’s worth as a commodity.”

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