Arizona’s Colorado River water cuts for 2024 reduced, long-term challenges remain

Sep 6, 2023, 4:35 AM

The Colorado River in the upper River Basin is pictured in Lees Ferry, Arizona, on May 29, 2021. Th...

The Colorado River in the upper River Basin is pictured in Lees Ferry, Arizona, on May 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX– Next year’s expected cuts to Colorado River water for Arizona and other western states will be less severe than expected, thanks to a better outlook at reservoirs in recent months.

However, that doesn’t mean the Colorado River isn’t still facing serious challenges.

The Federal Bureau of Reclamation made the announcement earlier this month scaling back expected water cuts in 2024. Arizona’s cut will be 512,000 acre-feet, compared to the originally forecast 592,000.

Sarah Porter with Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy said we have the wet winter to thank for that.

“We had a very, very good winter of 2022-23,” she explained. “The reservoirs have had a chance to recover.”

Short-term relief but challenges remain

Improved conditions at Lakes Mead and Powell are certainly a good thing, but Porter added that we shouldn’t expect them to continue.

“It’s very unusual that two good winters occur in a row,” she said. “The good winter bought us time, but it didn’t create a solution.”

Porter explained in recent years, less water is making its way into the river through snowmelt. Even with a good winter, over-allocation has stretched the system thin.

Deeper cuts will eventually be on the horizon, despite this short-term relief. However, it’s not news to communities that have historically relied on the Colorado River.

“Cities in central Arizona have been dealing with the prospect of declining Colorado River supplies… knowing there may be cuts,” Porter said. “This isn’t something that comes as a surprise… it’s a slow-moving problem.”

It may only buy a bit of time, but Porter said this past winter has given those who utilize the river’s water more wiggle room to work towards a solution.

The seven Colorado River basin states and Mexico are now negotiating new agreements for water use and protecting the reservoirs, with a deadline of 2026.

“We have these kind of systemic or institutional problems related to how water is allocated out of the Colorado River that we have to fix,” Porter said, “or we’ll be back into the bad place we were.”

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Arizona’s Colorado River water cuts for 2024 reduced, long-term challenges remain