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🗣️ "Nevada Responds to First Ever Federally-Declared Shortage on the Colorado River"

Water Smarts Podcast

Photo by Donald Giannatti / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Hosts: Bronson Mack & Crystal Zuelke
Guest: Colby Pellegrino | Deputy General Manager of Resources | Southern Nevada Water Authority
Category: 🗣️ Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[4:04] “Over 90% of the water that we serve to our customers comes from Lake Mead. The remaining 10% is coming here from local groundwater. So the condition of the Colorado River is vitally important for Nevada. I think the other thing that's important to remember when we talk about the Colorado River is Nevada only has 1.8% of the allocated water on the river. So it's really important that we work together as a basin.”

[4:51] “Starting in about 2000, the reservoirs were full and that was actually a pretty decent water year 1999. Coming into the year 2000 we started to see below average runoff into the reservoir. And then 2002 was really kind of a gut punch. It was one of the driest years on record and really accelerated the decline of Lake Powell. And was really when people started acknowledging that what is now a 21 year drought was the beginning of a serious drought. This is the most severe drought in Colorado River recorded history.”

[5:50] “We’re at the point now where the lake has dropped 130 feet, and we're in this first ever shortage declaration. But just because this is the first time shortage is declared doesn't mean that our planning started yesterday. We have been producing a 50 year water resource plan every single year to look at the most recent information about how the population may change, how our water resources will be used, what conservation looks like, and Colorado River conditions to make sure we can meet the future needs of the community.”

[6:23] “In the beginning of this drought, we introduced some of the most aggressive water conservation policy in the nation. We did a huge education program that still exists today. And we implemented some of our hallmark programs that we're still using today, like cash for grass to incentivize things to come out of the valley that are those more wasteful uses of water. We also started banking water about that time. And because of that we have water today stored here locally in our groundwater aquifer with our partners in Arizona, with our partners in California and in Lake Mead. And we've amassed enough water that it actually makes up for about eight years of the water that we're using today from the Colorado River.

[9:46] “Initially individuals won't see personal impacts related to the drought. Our conservation efforts were designed to get us prepared for this ahead of time. So when we talk about the reductions that Nevada has to take, they’re from our allocation of water, and we're not using our full allocation of water today. […] Nevada gets 300,000 acre feet of Colorado River water each year. Under this first level of shortage, we have to reduce our take of Colorado River water by 21,000 acre feet below our allocation. […] 2020 in context, we used 256,000 acre feet of Colorado River water, so we're using less today, then we're going to be shorted this year. So there is not an immediate impact.”

[10:50] “However, our water use has been increasing pretty steadily for the last several years. So we need to continue to use the tools that we know work to conserve, and that requires people taking actions every single day to help conserve water. The first and probably most important thing that any person or business can do is follow that seasonal watering schedule. Change your clock in fall and winter to be watering less days a week. […] The second is to rip out that turf that you're not using. And the third is to report water waste. A lot of times people don't even know they're wasting water. Their sprinklers run when they're at work or at night.”

[12:34] “The probabilities of remaining in shortage for the next five years remain above 90% in every single year. So we're at the point where we really need to take this conservation stuff seriously, not just here locally, but every single person that's using Colorado River water, whether you live in LA or Phoenix, Tucson, Denver […]. Less water in Lake Mead means deeper shortages. So as Lake Mead’s water level declines, the amount of reductions we take increases. […] Climate change and drought are not going away. And we know that besides impacting the Colorado River and our primary sources of supply, they're also going to cause people to increase use. Hotter days means our landscape and our evaporative cooling use more water. So we have to continue to make conservation savings to be able to adapt to what the future holds in terms of the hot dry weather that we're going to face.”

[14:34] “There is a possibility that we actually go into a tier two shortage in 2023. And what would trigger a tier two shortage is Lake Mead being below elevation 10.50 in the 24 months study projections for the start of 2023. That tier two shortage causes an increase in our reduction of our allocation by 4,000 acre feet per year. So Instead of the 21,000 acre feet that we're dealing with this year, we have to be using 25,000 acre feet less in 2023. That's a significant amount of water, that's 8 billion gallons of water less.”

[33:00] “Lake Mead is a storage reservoir. Its primary purpose actually was put in for flood control because the river was really flashy and these floods would wipe out the irrigation canals downstream. But it was built as large as it is to be a storage reservoir and to capture the wet years and draw down in the dryers. Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu downstream are actually what are known as regulating reservoirs. And so they're really there to smooth out the flows in the river so that the water users downstream are not trying to draw water off the river while it's moving up and down rapidly throughout the day. […] They do have some seasonal adjustments where they do go up and down a little bit, […] but otherwise it doesn't see those inflow changes that like me does because it's purely moving through the water that's going to water users downstream. […] Combined, Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu are less than 10% of the storage capacity of Lake Mead.”

Rating: 💧💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 38 min | 🗓️ 08/16/2021
✅ Time saved: 36 min