Topic: Current Water News

Keyword: Water Levels


Feds now see Lake Mead levels sinking

Excerpt: The winter snowpack on the western slopes of the Rockies – the source moisture for the Colorado River – is producing much less runoff than had been anticipated.

As a result, the federal Bureau of Reclamation now is predicting that Colorado River releases from Lake Powell into Lake Mead will be far lower than what the Bureau had anticipated in March of this year.

As a result, the federal Bureau of Reclamation now is predicting that Colorado River releases from Lake Powell into Lake Mead will be far lower than what the Bureau had anticipated in March of this year.

Excerpt: The dramatic turn-around in anticipated water flow into Lake Mead is a direct result of disappointing expectations for water flow into Lake Powell upstream. Powell’s diminished inflows are due to a dry early spring and consistently warmer-than-average temperatures in the Rocky Mountain region through the spring.

Excerpt: The Bureau of Reclamation’s data analysis indicate that on January 1, 2018 – the period during which heavy Lake Powell releases were expected to give Colorado River water officials a “breather” – Lake Mead’s water level likely will be at just 1,080.49 feet, barely more than five feet above the shortage trigger of 1,075 feet.

The primary driver of those lower lake levels is the diminishing amount of water to be released from Lake Powell – down from an anticipated “equalization release” of 10.8 million acre-feet during Water Year 2018, as reported in May, to a “balancing release” of just 9.0 million acre-feet, as reported by the Bureau in June.

War of words flares in Arizona over Lake Mead

Excerpt: Officials in Arizona have reached an impasse on a multistate agreement aimed at storing more Colorado River water in Lake Mead, but Southern Nevada Water Authority chief John Entsminger said he is confident the deal will still get done.

Excerpt: Board members Alexandra Arboleda and Mark Taylor from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District got things started on April 21, when they floated an alternate plan in the state’s largest newspaper to artificially keep Lake Mead just above the trigger point for a shortage, a move they said would force the release of more water from Lake Powell upstream while lessening the need for water reductions in Arizona.

Excerpt: The Colorado supplies water and power to 30 million people in seven Western states and irrigates $1.5 billion of crops a year. The Las Vegas Valley draws 90 percent of its drinking water from the Colorado by way of Lake Mead, which has seen its surface drop by roughly 130 feet since drought descended on the river in 2000.

Planned water releases from Lake Powell

Excerpt: A very dry and warm early March has scuttled the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s much-anticipated plan to release over 11 million acre-feet of Colorado River water from Lake Powell downstream into Lake Mead – a so-called “equalization” release.

Excerpt: A disappointment? Sure. But the planned release amount is higher than the normal release of 8.3 million acre-feet, and it should be enough to keep Lake Mead from descending below levels that would trigger a shortage declaration, according to BOR spokesman Marlon Duke. Already, Lake Mead is 1.5 to 2 feet above expectations at this time last year thanks to higher than anticipated intervening water flows into Lake Mead. Continuing conservation by the Lower Basin states has also helped keep Lake Mead’s elevation above the shortage-declaration threshold.

Excerpt: More water flowing now into Lake Powell makes the likelihood of the Upper Basin reservoir’s “operational tier” rising to an “Equalization Tier” in 2018. That could mean a big release of 11 million acre-feet or more into Lake Mead next year. But all this depends on Mother Nature and how much snow falls next winter.

Fill Mead First

Excerpt: Whether we are talking about draining all of its water or just most of it, reducing Lake Powell to a secondary status behind Lake Mead would fail in two of the plan’s most important goals, according to a technical assessment released last fall by Utah State University researchers.

Excerpt: The Fill Mead First proposal would have little effect in its initial phases on the amount of fine-grain sediment released into the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. The plan’s final phase, on the other hand, would “cause significant ecosystem adjustments associated with the sudden change from relatively clear water to a very turbid river.”

Wet winter may help Colorado River push off problems

Excerpt: Drought conditions have declined substantially across the region in recent weeks, with heavy storms replenishing reservoirs and piling fresh powder on ski resorts.

Excerpt: Under federal guidelines that kick in when water flows reach certain volumes, the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the river basin’s largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, could release enough water from the former to raise the elevation of the latter by 20 feet or more — providing a remarkable shot in the arm for a lake that has been declining steadily during a devastating drought that started in 2000.

Excerpt: That all means that delicate negotiations that have been underway to get the seven states which use the water — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — to increase the amount of water they conserve are still crucial.

California snowpack at drought-busting level

Excerpt: Runoff from the overall Sierra snowpack, which provides arid California with a third of its water in a good year, stood at the highest level since 1995 for this point in the year, California’s Department of Water Resources said.

Excerpt: Back-to-back-to-back storms in January that each dropped a hurricane’s worth of water have put the state at 108 percent of its normal rain and snow for the whole year, said Michael Dettinger, a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s with two months still left in the rainy season.

Excerpt: Given this year’s wealth of rain and snow, some farmers and city governments are urging the state to provide them with more water. That would mean cutting back on water the state allows to flow to the Pacific Ocean, to benefit struggling native species whose numbers have dwindled in the drought.

Conservation groups, meanwhile, say the state hasn’t gone far enough to cut agricultural and urban water use, especially as warming temperatures from climate change threatens the cycle of snowfall and melt.

Western drought update

Excerpt: For the first time since March 2011, there was no D4, “exceptional drought,” anywhere in the United States, as analyzed by the U.S. Drought Monitor. The last vestige of D4—the most severe category in the monitoring system—disappeared from its southern California holdout, part of a larger pattern of substantial mid-January drought improvements in California.

Excerpt: However, there are still groundwater wells that are moving in the wrong direction in parts of California, particularly southern California. The latest rains literally have not had time to filter down to replenish aquifers. And even when they do, they will be but a blip against the big picture. It’s a point worth dwelling on: weeks of rain will relieve wildfire and agricultural impacts, but we need seasons to years of rain to restore groundwater.

Excerpt: These different scales of drought mean that “drought recovery” means different things for different folks. If you rely on groundwater in the West, you’re still feeling drought, significantly.

Fill Mead First plan

Excerpt: Utah State University scientists urge caution in implementing the widely publicized Fill Mead First plan aimed at restoring the canyon. The massive plan calls for partially or completely draining Lake Powell, the reservoir formed by the dam, and collecting the water downstream in Lake Mead, the reservoir formed by Hoover Dam.

Excerpt: He and colleagues found evaporation losses at Lake Mead are measured by the U.S. Geological Survey in a state-of-the-science program, but there have been no efforts to measure evaporation at Lake Powell since the mid-1970s. No studies have been conducted since the mid-1980s estimating how much reservoir water moves into the bedrock that surrounds Lake Powell. Using the most-recent data, USU researchers showed evaporation losses would be slightly less if the proposed plan was implemented, but the uncertainty in this prediction is large.

Drought management: Senator working to secure resources

Excerpt: Arizona Senator Jeff Flake made a visit to the Hoover Dam on Wednesday for a briefing on Lake Mead water levels and to meet with state water officials. The visit comes just weeks after an announcement by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that there can be a water shortage expected for Lake Mead by 2018.

Excerpt: The senator said he ultimately wants to ensure Arizona’s water would be available for users within the state. Flake said previously Arizona’s conservation efforts account for a significant amount of water still in Lake Mead, and has asked for reassurances from federal agencies that Arizona will have privileges to that water.

Excerpt: Havasu is still in line for more cuts along with the rest of Arizona and Nevada if current trends continue, according to Water Resources Manager Doyle Wilson. Those won’t be felt in Havasu immediately, but if the white “bathtub” ring around Lake Mead continues to grow, Havasu could see its water resources dwindle.

August Colorado River Briefing

Excerpt: The bottom line from the federal report indicated that water levels from Colorado River water entering Lake Mead will be enough to keep the system from falling into the first allocation-shortage declaration in the system’s history.

Excerpt: The Water Resources director spelled out to the audience some sobering facts about what it may take to stabilize Lake Mead should the reservoir descend to critical levels.

By 2023, for example, it would take 3 million acre-feet of water in a single year to protect the reservoir, should nothing be done now to stave off that uncertain future. Other scenarios that include the effects of climate change, he said, could double the amounts of water needed.

Excerpt: Cooke’s organization, the CAP, has just launched a multi-media campaign – “Protect Lake Mead” – dedicated to increasing public awareness about the vital nature of Lake Mead to the entire Southwest.

Water shortage is averted

Excerpt: But there will be no water shortage in the lower Colorado River, at least not officially. The federal government projects there will be enough Colorado River water available for states to take their full share.

Excerpt: Lake Havasu City residents have a front-row seat to the river’s use but are oddly distanced from the initial consequences of a shortage. The city is currently using only about half of its river water allocations. In fact, thanks to conservation, the lower Colorado River regional states actually used less than the full allocation last year.

Excerpt: Water diversions from historically wet areas of the country will probably play a big role in the future of the region and water officials would do well to make plans for those now rather than when the Southwest’s water needs become urgent.

Lake Mead to skirt shortage line

Excerpt: Despite sinking to a record low in early July, Lake Mead should be just full enough on Jan. 1 to avoid an unprecedented federal shortage declaration for at least one more year.

Excerpt: Decisive projections released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation call for the reservoir east of Las Vegas to start 2017 with a surface elevation of about 1,079 feet above sea level. That’s roughly 4 feet above the line that would force Nevada and Arizona to cut their Colorado River water use.

Excerpt: Water officials in Nevada, Arizona and California hope to further delay the first official shortage on the Colorado through a series of voluntary cuts now being discussed.

By the end of the year, the three states hope to finalize a landmark deal under which Arizona would shoulder the largest cuts and California would accept reductions to its river use for the first time.

Lake Mead water

Excerpt: Even after nearly 17 years of drought, there has not been a lot of fightin’ among the Southwestern states over the dwindling supplies of water in Lake Mead.

In fact, the level of cooperation among Arizona, Nevada and California, as well as the federal government, is a big part of why the federal Bureau of Reclamation likely will not issue a “shortfall” declaration in 2017 to protect water levels in Lake Mead.

That became clear this week when the Bureau of Reclamation released its 24-month forecast for the Colorado River system. Reclamation concluded Lake Mead most likely will finish the current year above the shortage triggering level. Not by much, mind you – just four feet or so. But by enough.

Excerpt: Since 2007, various water partners in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River have struck four major agreements to leave portions of their river allocations in Lake Mead. Including a big contribution from Mexico, those agreements added ten feet to Lake Mead’s water levels between 2007 and now.

So do the math: If the states had succumbed to that urge to fight over water rather than cooperate and, as a result, had added nothing to keep Lake Mead from falling to critical levels, then Mead right now would be at least five feet below the level that would trigger a federal declaration reducing Arizona’s river allocation severely.

El Niño winter could top off Phoenix-area water supply

Excerpt: While the phenomenon caused by unusually warm water in the eastern Pacific Ocean often brings a wet winter to southern states, it would take more than one such year to put a significant dent in the Southwest's ongoing drought. However, a particularly strong El Niño winter could have a substantial impact on Arizona's water supply.

Excerpt: SRP's Charlie Ester, manager of Water Resource Operations, is hoping an El Niño winter will stop that trend, and he has some historical data to back up that hope. He said there is a strong correlation between El Niño and wetter-than-normal winters in the Southwest.

"How is this for a fact — since World War II, Arizona has not had a dry winter in an El Niño year," Ester said. "We have had normal winters (during an El Niño year). But after the last five years, even a normal winter would be wonderful."

Discussion of Colorado River Basin

Excerpt: The Basin Study indicates that, in the coming decades, significant shortfalls between projected water supplies and demands will seriously affect the agricultural, municipal, energy, and environmental sectors, unless a wide range of solutions are applied to mitigate these shortfalls.

Excerpt: Opportunities exist to increase water conservation and reuse, and in many cases, methods are already being implemented. Opportunities will vary depending on many factors, including the extent to which measures have already been implemented, the cost of specific conservations measures, the cost of existing and new water supplies, the degree of public acceptance, and the laws and regulations. The three workgroups recognized that although many opportunities exist to enhance water use efficiency, greater efficiency may become more difficult and costly to implement in the future. In addition, the Colorado River Basin represents a very diverse region; solutions are often site-specific and depend on local conditions. Despitethis diversity, the workgroups identified several commonalities among the sets of potential future actions and they highlighted these for each sector.

California Should Share Drought Burden

Excerpt: Arizona’s water chief wants California to shoulder more of the burden of drought in the Lower Colorado River Basin. The comments came during a hearing in front of the U.S. Senate Committee On Energy and Natural Resources.

Excerpt: “Honestly, the fact that California, under the 1968 Basin Project Act, does not take shortages, only Arizona and Nevada do, has created a bit of an unlevel playing field," Buschatzke told the Senate committee.

"We can use the help of the Department of Interior specifically on that issue: finding a way to create more equity at the negotiating table," he said.

Blunder Helped Create The Water Crisis

Excerpt: In 1922, seven Western states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and California — drew up an agreement on how to divide the waters of the Colorado River. But there was one big problem with the plan: They overestimated how much water the river could provide.

Excerpt: Environmental reporter Abrahm Lustgarten began investigating the water crisis a year and a half ago for the ProPublica series Killing the Colorado. He tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that he initially thought the water crisis was the result of climate change or drought. Instead, Lustgarten says, "It's the policy and the management that seem to be having a greater effect than the climate."

Excerpt: What I hear repeatedly from some of the smartest thinkers in the West ... is that there is plenty of water in the West, so the question is really about how do you use it better. ... The changes that we talked about in terms of farming, prioritizing which crops are grown and increasing efficiency about how water is used in the cities, they believe would make the region self-sustaining for many, many, many decades into the future.

ProPublica Investigates Colorado River Water Woes

Excerpt: The investigative journalism group ProPublica has been taking an in-depth look at the water crisis in the West, in a series that is focused on the Colorado River.

Excerpt: What he said he's learned is that, drought or no drought, water use is a policy and management issue. He said he hopes readers of his reports take away the same message. "First and foremost is a greater awareness of how the decisions that we make politically and the places that we put our money affect the water crisis," he said. "I'd like to see the smart people in the room make changes based on that realization."

Excerpt: The ProPublica series paints a grim picture at times, from lack of federal oversight to feuds about water rights, to different states' and individuals' "use it or lose it" mentality about water. But according to its author, there's also hope for greater cooperation to help Westerners get through the drought. "What I hear from people I interview is, there's a lot of room in the law to allow sharing, transfers of rights, lesser usage of rights - while not threatening those rights," he said.

A wet May brings rare good news for Lake Mead

Excerpt: An exceptionally rainy month in Colorado that's been hailed by some as a "Miracle May" is providing a much-needed boost to the drought-stricken Colorado River basin and could help delay mandatory water cuts in Las Vegas and Arizona, according to projections released today by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Excerpt: But a series of heavy storms across the basin last month led to higher than normal precipitation and even some snow at higher elevations that could pour as much as 1.5 million additional acre-feet into Lake Powell, the Colorado River's upstream reservoir.

Gov. Ducey urges steps to protect Arizona water supply

Excerpt: Arizona has been able to withstand a 15-year arid spell through long-term planning and conservation without limitations, but dropping water levels at Lake Mead and possible shortages of Colorado River water could prompt major cuts in Arizona's supply by 2017.

Excerpt: Ducey stressed that Arizona has already taken much of the brunt of river shortages and said further actions wouldn't be fair. Arizona should not be forced to pay the price for California's inability to plan for drought, he said.

Excerpt: His comments come at a time when water managers in Arizona, Nevada and California are limiting the amount of water they are pulling from the Colorado River in an attempt to preserve the resource. Under an agreement reached late last year, Arizona will forego 345,000 acre feet of water over three years.

May in Colorado boosts Lake Powell

Excerpt: What some officials are calling "Miracle May" has increased the expected spring-summer runoff into Lake Powell from an earlier estimate of 3 million acre-feet of water to about 5 million acre-feet, says the federal Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City. That 2 million extra-acre feet is 25 percent more than CAP receives every year from the Colorado.

Excerpt: Lake Powell releases water each year into Lake Mead, and the runoff into Powell determines how much water eventually goes into Mead and, eventually, the CAP. With Mead's levels continuing to hit record lows this year -- for the third time in 5 years -- the Bureau of Reclamation said in April that there's a 33 percent chance of a CAP shortage next year and a 75 percent shortage in 2017.

Excerpt: Typically in the entire Colorado River Basin, El Nino is most strongly linked with winter precipitation in the Lower Colorado River Basin, not the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming that are the source of most of the river's spring-summer runoff. Overall, there's been little correlation between El Nino events and Upper Basin Streamflow, the forecast center said.

Arizona hopes for more control of its water

Excerpt: Arizona wants more control of its water resources as the ongoing drought in Western states brings the likelihood of further shortages to the region, a state official testified Tuesday.

Excerpt: Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, also told a Senate committee that any solution to the region’s water woes should “benefit the entire Colorado River system rather than any one particular Colorado River water user.”

Excerpt: He said that drought conditions are nothing new to Arizona, a desert state where residents have long known the value of water – and planned for it.

Excerpt: If water levels in Lake Mead fall below an elevation 1,075 feet, it requires a declaration by the federal government of a “Tier 1″ shortage on the river which, in turn, triggers a reduction in the amount of water states can draw from the river.

For Arizona, a Tier 1 shortage would mean the loss of 320,000 of its annual 2.8 million acre-feet allocation of the river’s water, he said.

How federal dollars are financing the water crisis in the West

Excerpt: That precious liquid is pulled from a nearby federal reservoir, siphoned from beleaguered underground aquifers and pumped in from the Colorado River hundreds of miles away.

Excerpt: Getting plants to grow in the Sonoran Desert is made possible by importing billions of gallons of water each year. Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in existence, and each acre cultivated here demands six times as much water as lettuce, 60 percent more than wheat.

Excerpt: The federal subsidies that prop up cotton farming in Arizona are just one of myriad ways that policymakers have refused, or been slow to reshape laws to reflect the West’s changing circumstances.

Excerpt: Today Wuertz lives with the deep uncertainty that comes with a transition he can no longer control. He told his son, Thomas, 24, that there is no future in cotton farming. He says that if Arizona farmers keep planting cotton, farming itself may be in jeopardy. But knowing that and acting on it have so far been different beasts, and Wuertz finds himself resistant to change. He tried growing more cantaloupe but had difficulty finding buyers who would take the time-sensitive crop before it rotted. He’s planting some acres he used to plant with cotton with alfalfa instead, but that uses even more water, though it commands a premium price.

Arizona farmers prepare for CAP water shortage

Excerpt: But with the Interior Department expected to declare a shortage on the Colorado River in the not-too-distant future, he and other central Arizona farmers face a tougher scenario: A shortage would trigger a first round of cuts to the state’s CAP allotment, and those cuts would fall in large part on agriculture.

Excerpt: The CAP is offering financial incentives to encourage farmers to reduce their usage, said Chuck Cullom, the CAP’s Colorado River programs manager.

The CAP reduces farmers’ payments for CAP water for every acre-foot that they cut back on water, which acts as a credit against their CAP bills.

“We are basically paying them to reduce their use of CAP water,” Cullom said.

Excerpt: Thelander said Arizona’s farmers have learned to be efficient with water because they’re in a desert.

“It’s going to be a very painful cutback when we start losing our water, but we’ll do what we can to survive and that’s all you can do,” he said.

Record-Low Lake Mead

Excerpt: the area has been in a drought for most of the last 15 years, she has seen the water creep away, with a chalky ring on the lake’s rocky edges marking the heights it once reached. The longtime home of the marina has mostly dried up, forcing a move several years ago to a site 12 miles away. And on a recent morning, crews went to work on the elaborate process, requiring weeks of preparation and costing over $100,000, to ease the marina — with its boat slips, shop and offices — farther out into water.

Excerpt: When it is full, the reservoir, a few dozen miles from the Las Vegas Strip, reaches an elevation of more than 1,220 feet. But last week, Lake Mead broke records, falling to about 1,079 feet, lows not seen since the lake was created in the 1930s. At the moment, the lake is at only 38 percent of its capacity, and officials warn that the water level will continue to fall throughout the summer, with projections showing an estimated elevation of 1,073 feet by September.

Excerpt: “They have practically allocated every single drop, and for many years they had over-allocated,” said Sajjad Ahmad, who is also a civil and environmental engineering professor at U.N.L.V. “We are operating on the edge. That we know.”

Excerpt: Ms. Kaiser’s fears are less about the falling water level and directed more at the attention paid to it. She remembered the last time stories of record-breaking lows spread just before the relief of an exceptionally wet year in 2011, and what that meant for her business.

“We take phone calls from all over the world from people that think Lake Mead is a mud hole,” she said. “They call and want to cancel their reservation because they heard there’s no water there.”

But the lake, which draws close to seven million tourists a year, is still a blue expanse amid the desert, covering about 242,000 acres and in places plunging nearly 300 feet deep.

Lake Mead may hit record low

Excerpt: Officials project the lake to stand at 1,080 feet Sunday and ultimately sink to 1073.03 feet by the end of this June before recovering just enough to steer clear of a 2016 Colorado River shortage declaration %u2014 by less than 7 feet.

Excerpt: The 15-year drought has left less snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and fewer spring storms to recharge the river. In addition, the snowpack lately has been melting more quickly than reclamation officials hoped, which means that more of the water evaporates or is absorbed into the ground, Davis said.

Colorado shortage unlikely to affect cities

Excerpt: Arizona’s communities, industries, mines and Native American tribes aren’t likely to be affected during the next five years if federal officials declare a shortage on the Colorado River, officials said Wednesday.

Excerpt: Arizona has a plan in place to access stored water when needed, and the CAP and ADWR closely monitor the situation along the Colorado River, he said. In the meantime, he said, the state is a leader in recycling and reusing water, including putting treated wastewater to use.

Lake Mead water levels

Excerpt: Federal forecasters expect the lake to stay in record territory and continue to drop through the end of June, when it could dip as low as 1,073 feet above sea level. After that, the reservoir should begin to inch back up as Lake Powell delivers more water downstream. This should give record keepers time to update their ledgers before next April, when the water level will likely to enter historic territory once again.

Excerpt: Should Lake Mead start 2016 below the 1,075 mark, it will trigger the first federal shortage declaration on the Colorado and prompt Nevada and Arizona to cut back on the amount of water they take from the river.

Current projections call for the lake to remain just above that all-important shortage line on Jan. 1 of both 2016 and 2017, but those forecasts assume average or better snow accumulations in the mountains that feed the Colorado River — something that’s happened only three times in the past 15 years.

Lake Mead Levels Drop, Bigger Drought Impact

Excerpt: The historic four-year drought in California has been grabbing the headlines lately, but there's a much bigger problem facing the West: the now 14-year drought gripping the Colorado River basin.

Excerpt: "I do believe that Nevada is a poster child for the rest of the nation," Entsminger says. "We have shown that you can grow your economy and use less water."

Excerpt: But conservation can go only so far when your supply is shrinking fast. So the water authority is currently spending $1.5 billion to burrow a new tunnel even deeper down into Lake Mead: The old tunnels that suck water over to Las Vegas will dry up if the lake's level sinks below 1,000 feet.

Continual planning needed to manage water supply

Excerpt: Arizonans should never take water for granted, as the new water restrictions in California show what can happen without proper planning for future water supplies, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake said Tuesday.

Excerpt: “People assume that you turn on the tap, water comes out and everything’s fine,” said Flake, who convened a community water policy forum in Phoenix. “It’s not that easy. It takes a lot of planning and continual planning and new planning for these droughts that come along.”

Excerpt: “Water is the basis or the foundation on which you develop an economy,” Hallin said. “Without a reliable water supply here in the Valley, you really have no economy. That’s foundational, and that’s why you see so many metro areas and where they grew up.”

Excerpt: “There’s a lot of good people doing a lot of good for water resources in the state of Arizona, but it’s still an uphill climb,” he said. “We’re going to need a lot of participation and a lot of people coming together to really figure out some of the challenges we have.”

Parched: Arizona's shrinking aquifers

Excerpt: Arizona relies on groundwater for 40 percent of its water supply -- and that's a figure that took decades of political and economic wrangling to achieve. Facing major groundwater overdrafts in the 1970s, leaders launched the Central Arizona Project to bring Colorado River water to major metropolitan areas and enacted laws limiting pumping and banning irrigation expansion in critical areas.

Excerpt: But expect the focus on groundwater health to intensify. If the Colorado River is declared in a shortage, farmers around Phoenix expect to begin drilling again or, if they already are, increase their groundwater intake, Corkhill said.

Colorado snowpack at 90 percent of long-term average

Excerpt: Water experts say snowpack in the mountains and valleys where the Colorado River originates has been shrinking since the start of the month.

Brian Domonkos, supervisor of the Colorado Snow Survey for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Tuesday that the snow was about 90 percent of the long-term average.

Figures for the early March snow levels weren't immediately available.

Excerpt: The Colorado River is under especially close scrutiny because it helps supply California, which is in the midst of a historic drought.

Forecasters predict another down year for Lake Mead

Excerpt: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A lackluster year so far on the Colorado River has local water managers and National Park Service officials bracing for further declines at Lake Mead.

According to the latest federal forecast, released Wednesday, the reservoir is expected to fall to a new record low next month and slip downward from there, shedding a total of about 20 feet through June 2016.

The bleak new estimate is based on current projections pointing to below-average flows on the Colorado in the coming months, as the snow pack melts in the mountains that feed the river and its tributaries.

According to the latest federal forecast, released Wednesday, the reservoir is expected to fall to a new record low next month and slip downward from there, shedding a total of about 20 feet through June 2016.

The bleak new estimate is based on current projections pointing to below-average flows on the Colorado in the coming months, as the snow pack melts in the mountains that feed the river and its tributaries.

Excerpt: The Southern Nevada Water Authority is almost finished with a new deep-water intake pipe designed to keep water flowing to the community even as the reservoir shrinks. Water authority spokesman Bronson Mack said the $817 million intake is on track to begin delivering water in August.

Excerpt: In January 2000, Lake Mead was close to full with a surface elevation of 1,214 feet above sea level.

Today, the surface of the lake sits at about 1,088 feet above sea level, a difference of more than 125 feet.

Williams water woes looking up

Excerpt: Last week’s winter storm helped rescue the city of Williams from the Stage 4 water restrictions the city has been living with for more than a year.

Excerpt: But the recent rain and snow was a big boost to the city’s reservoirs, which now hold a 16-month supply of water based on peak summer demand. Those surface water supplies are the basis for water restrictions, according to city code.

Excerpt: Between the end of December and this week, Dogtown Lake, the city’s biggest reservoir, grew from 119 million gallons to 191 million gallons and is now 56 percent full. Cataract Lake, another reservoir, more than doubled in size, from 45 million gallons to 98 million gallons and is now 72 percent full. Buckskinner Lake is now completely full. Santa Fe Dam and Kaibab Lake, which were so low they were untreatable, also filled up considerably.

Arizona per capita water use declining

Excerpt: The good news, as Kathleen Ferris of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association points out, is that demand in major cities has actually dropped amid conservation efforts. Per capita water usage has leveled or decreased in many Valley cities over the past five years, according to data from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Excerpt: "People have lost the love affair with turf," Woodard said. "A lot of people would rather have an attractive, drought-tolerant landscape than get up Saturday morning and fire up the lawn mower."

Excerpt: If demand for water further declines, some water providers may find that their pipes are over-sized for the lower volume, which may take the water longer to reach its targeted source. If that happens, disinfectants used at the water treatment plant may wear down, requiring more to be added somewhere down the pipeline, Woodard said.

Arizona town of Williams drought

Excerpt: In February, the town went into level four water restrictions, the highest level of restrictions that prohibits the use of water for anything other than public health or emergencies.

Excerpt: The Santa Fe Reservoir is more than 20 feet below its full line. Thick, black, white and rust-red rings mark the dam's cement wall like a bathtub, an ugly reminder of how full the reservoir once was.

Excerpt: Sadly, if widely accepted predictions for a drier Arizona hold true, the story of Williams may serve as a cautionary tale. Many rural Arizona towns will have to adapt to climate change as their water supplies become less and less reliable.

Williams is a town that is trying to adapt to its longstanding water shortage and could serve as a harbinger of how the Southwest's increasingly hotter and drier conditions begin to change the way we live.

Overpopulation and city expansion cause water shortages

Excerpt: According to John Weisheit conservation director for Living Rivers, the only thing that will stop water from disappearing is to put the brakes on city expansion and population growth.

Excerpt: "It's not something that can be fixed in one year - it'll take 30 years," Weisheit said. "The problem is that if the cycle of drought ends this year or next year, what they're going to do is wipe their brow and say 'whew, we lucked out.' There's going to be even more consumption and less flow and the situation is going to get worse."

Excerpt: "There's an imbalance of demand and what have they been doing in the last 60 years? The answer is nothing, absolutely nothing," he said. "Knowledge is important and when people turn on their faucets they don't know the history they don't realize the history that's coming out of that faucet."

Worst Drought in 1,000 Years Predicted

Excerpt: Large parts of the U.S. are in for a drought of epic proportions in the second half of this century, scientists warn in a new study that provides the highest degree of certainty yet on the impact of global warming on water supplies in the region.

Excerpt: That's because rising temperatures spurred by the greenhouse effect result in more evaporation and less precipitation for the region, which is already relatively dry.

Excerpt: "Over the past year, water managers and the public have started paying more attention to the possibility of a megadrought," said Painter. "Water demand has passed supply in some areas. Throwing 30 years of drought on top of that means we're going to have to change the way we live out here."

Climate change will increase evaporation of Colorado River

Excerpt: The Colorado River faces a dual threat from climate change as rising temperatures increase the demand for irrigation water and accelerate evaporation at the river’s two largest reservoirs.

Excerpt: The upper half of the basin, above Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona, is expected to see demand for agricultural water jump by almost 23 percent, while Lake Powell loses 7 percent more water to evaporation than it did during the last half of the 20th century.

Excerpt: According to the report, rising temperatures will drive up agricultural demand on the Truckee and the Carson by more than 14 percent over the next 65 years, while evaporation will increase by 14 percent at Lake Tahoe and by 7 percent at Lahontan Reservoir.

Biggest Water Losses Are Groundwater

Excerpt: During presentations this week at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, announced that the region’s most visible signs of drought – shrinking reservoirs – are dwarfed by groundwater losses.

Excerpt: From March 2005 to June 2013, the Colorado River Basin lost 5.7 cubic kilometers (4.6 million acre-feet) of water per year, or more than 47 cubic kilometers (38 million acre-feet) over the 100-month study period. The cumulative losses are equal to 1.3 times the storage capacity of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. Most of the water losses are attributed to groundwater pumping, mainly for irrigated agriculture.

Excerpt: If the federal government’s river-flow forecast holds true, the lower release from Powell will set up the Lower Basin for a shortage that could be declared as early as 2015 or 2016. Such a declaration is based on how much water is in Lake Mead. Arizona and Nevada would be the only states to endure water restrictions at this first shortage tier. Moreover, water managers in Arizona told Circle of Blue in August that they would weather cuts in water deliveries from the river by pumping more groundwater.

Landmark water pact with Mexico

Excerpt: After years of negotiations, the United States and Mexico have struck a deal that could keep more water in Lake Mead and help improve water efficiency and the environment south of the border.

Excerpt: The landmark five-year agreement would allow Mexico to store some of its annual Colorado River allotment in Lake Mead for future use.

Excerpt: For one thing, the lower the lake sinks, the closer it gets to the trigger point for the authority's multibillion-dollar plan to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas from across eastern Nevada.

The surface of the lake now stands at 1,116 feet above sea level. If it drops to 1,075 feet, authority board members will cast their final vote on whether to proceed with the pipeline.

"That project is our protection from catastrophe. It's our safety net," Mulroy said. "As long as we can continue to defer it, we will."

Arizona Reservoir Levels

Excerpt: Storage in each of the Arizona reservoirs listed in Figure 6 declined during the last month. Combined storage in Lakes Mead and Powell decreased by 679,000 acre-feet in June. Total reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin is 60 percent of capacity (rounded to 0 percent in Figure 6, around 5 percent lower than it was at the beginning of the water year. Storage in the San Carlos Reservoir, which completely dried in 1976 and 1977, is at about 0.2 percent of capacity, an extremely low level that reflects scant precipitation in southeastern Arizona for two consecutive La Niña winters. The reservoir is also nearing its lowest capacity in 20 years. Combined storage in the Salt and Verde river basin systems is 59 percent of capacity, which is about 20 percent less than it was one year ago.