The Bureau of Reclamation said that Lake Mead and Lake Powell will meet operating standards for 2024. This follows months of restoration efforts and improved hydrology implemented after the Colorado River Basin experienced Tier 2 water shortage status in 2022, specifically impacting the region’s agriculture industry.
Based on the Bureau’s August 2023 24-Month Study, Lake Powell will operate at a Mid-Elevation Release Tier and Lake Mead will operate at a Level 1 Shortage Condition, both still affected by the low water elevation level of the Colorado River system. Conservation efforts in the Lower Basin states, funded partially by President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, have helped in recovering some reservoir storage, according to the government. Nonetheless, the two lakes remain at historically low levels.
“The above-average precipitation this year was a welcome relief, and coupled with our hard work for system conservation, we have the time to focus on the long-term sustainability solutions needed in the Colorado River Basin,” said Camille Calimlim Touton, Reclamation commissioner. “However, Lake Powell and Lake Mead – the two largest reservoirs in the United States and the two largest storage units in the Colorado River system – remain at historically low levels. As we experience a warmer, drier west due to a prolonged drought , accelerated by climate change, Reclamation is committed to leading inclusive and transparent efforts to develop the next-generation framework for managing the river system.”
In response to the continued shortage, three Lower Basin States have committed to conserving at least 3 million acre-feet of system water through the end of 2026.
Water Shortages’ Impact on Regional Industry, IRA’s Drought Plan
Especially for areas reliant on the lakes’ water, such as Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico, water cuts have strained crops in the area, impacting agricultural production. According to Ceres, agriculture accounts for 80% of water used from the Colorado River, which contributes to growing 15% of crops in the U.S. and 90% of the country’s winter vegetables.
Data centers in the region also account for significant water usage. Meta has worked towards creating a more water-efficient data center in Arizona, while Google has net water-positive campuses in California and Nevada.
Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest $8.3 billion over five years towards water infrastructure improvements, including water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination, and dam safety. The Inflation Reduction Act is also investing $4.6 billion to address the area’s ongoing drought.