A “moment of reckoning” has arrived for the Colorado River

Jun 15, 2022

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said during a Senate hearing yesterday that sustaining the country’s largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and ensuring water supplies for 40 million people living in the southwest will require drastic reductions in water deliveries.

The commissioner’s testimony followed a weekend of record-breaking temperatures in the southwest in the midst of the worst drought in 1,200 years. “A warmer, drier West is what we are seeing today,” Touton told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “And the challenges we are seeing today are unlike anything we have seen in our history.”

In order to avoid a catastrophic scenario, the Bureau of Reclamation is calling for a reduction in water delivery of 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water among the seven Colorado River basin states next year. For context, the entire allocation of Colorado River water for California is 4.4 million acre-feet per year, while Arizona’s allotment is 2.8 million acre-feet.

John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which supplies water to the Las Vegas area, also testified before the committee. “What has been a slow-motion train wreck for 20 years is accelerating, and the moment of reckoning is near,” said Entsminger. “We are 150 feet from 25 million Americans losing access to the Colorado River, and the rate of decline is accelerating.”

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Quote of the day

If we can’t save the Great Salt Lake, what chance do we have of saving the planet?”

—Economist Paul Krugman, New York Times

Picture this

plastic trash littering a beach

Less than 10% of the plastic trash ever produced has been recycled. As stewards of our public lands and waters, Interior will play a leading role in reducing plastic waste’s impact on our ecosystems and our planet. Photo by Susan White, @USFWS

(featured image: Aerial view of Dangling Rope Marina at Lake Powell. Source: Bureau of Reclamation Flickr)