Colorado River Crisis Spurs Move to 'Tier 2'

A Tier 1 shortage was declared last year
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 16, 2022 2:45 PM CDT
Colorado River Crisis Is Getting Worse
A buoy sits high and dry on cracked earth previously under the waters of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nev., on June 28, 2022.   (AP Photo/John Locher)

After 22 straight years of drought, the Colorado River's flow is in increasingly bad shape—and two of the seven states that rely on its water are going to have to make more cuts. Last year, a Tier 1 shortage was declared on the river for the first time, causing mandatory cuts to the use of its water in Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico under a plan the seven states and Mexico signed in 2019, CNN reports. But with the water shortage getting worse, the Department of the Interior announced Tuesday that a Tier 2 shortage will be declared starting in 2023, causing more cuts for Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. Arizona will lose more than a fifth of its yearly allotment.

The cuts are based on water levels at Lake Mead, which are now at historic lows and are expected to fall even further next year, the AP reports. The lake, America's largest reservoir, is currently just a quarter full, and experts warn that it is getting dangerously close to the level where the Hoover Dam can no longer generate power. Bureau of Reclamation chief Camille Touton warned in June that states need to come up with a plan to cut water usage by next year. But negotiations between states are not going well, and the federal government might have to step in, reports CNN. The states missed the bureau's August 15 deadline for announcing proposals to cut water use.

Authorities say any cuts made are likely to be in place for a long time as the West becomes hotter and drier. "In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced," said Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, per the Los Angeles Times. Water managers say a long-term plan is needed, but their main priority is coming up with a plan to get through the next three years without the system falling apart. (More Colorado River stories.)

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