The Department of the Interior has declared the Colorado River Basin will operate on Tier 2 water shortage status beginning in January 2023 and that Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico must take cuts on the amount of water they receive — potentially impacting industry in the region, especially agriculture.
The move comes after a decades-long drought in the area that has dropped water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead to historic lows. Lake Mead’s water level is expected to fall to 1,500 feet above sea level, the threshold for Tier 2 shortage status, for the first time early next year.
The Department of the Interior’s action requires lower Colorado River Basin regions to reduce their water intake. Arizona is now required to cut 21% of its annual water supply from the Colorado River, Nevada 8%, and Mexico 7%. At this time California has not been asked to make any cuts. The regions that use the Colorado River for water were asked in June by the federal government to come up with a conservation plan that would reduce up to a quarter of their usage and missed the August 15 deadline.
Agriculture is the biggest user of water from the Colorado River. Ceres says agriculture uses 80% of the water from the river, producing 15% of the crops in the United States, including 90% of the country’s winter vegetables.
Agriculture is widely used in a range of industries, especially food and beverage and textiles. It is also becoming more prominent in sustainability programs such as biofuel production and carbon sequestration.
Water conservation is more of a priority in areas such as data centers and technology production. Data centers, for example, use a significant amount of water and companies have been seeking ways to cut back on that use.
Meta, which is focused on building sustainable data centers that it says are 80% more water efficient, has a data center under construction in Arizona. Google, which built what it calls a net water-positive campus in California, has two in Nevada.
Intel says it has achieved net-water positive operations in the US and is building and operating several large plants in the US including Arizona. The company has used water conservation as a specific area of focus in terms of location and facility operations.
The Department of the Interior says the Colorado River conservation actions as the drought has officially reached 23 years are in addition to recently passed federal laws that are aimed to improve water infrastructure and status in the country.
The $1 trillion infrastructure law invests $8.3 billion into water and drought issues, including the country’s western water and power infrastructure. The Inflation Reduction Act, which passed on Aug. 12 and was signed into law this week, includes $4 billion in funding for water management and conservation efforts in the Colorado River Basin and other areas experiencing significant drought.
“Every sector in every state has a responsibility to ensure that water is used with maximum efficiency,” says Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo. “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.”
The Colorado River also provides water for upper basin states Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.