Cash Market Moves

Colorado River Basin States Told to Act Now to Conserve Water

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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This map shows the Colorado River Basin boundaries. (Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation)

The seven states within the Colorado River Basin will need to conserve 2 million to 4 million acre feet of water in 2023 and maintain those cuts for the next few years to protect Lake Mead's and Lake Powell's reservoirs, U.S. Reclamation Commissioner Camille C. Touton testified at a Senate hearing last month.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on June 14 to examine short- and long-term solutions to the extreme drought in the western U.S.

During the hearing, federal officials made it clear that "unilateral action" would take place if those states do not conserve water as deemed. The seven Colorado River Basin states are Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada, California and Arizona.

Most of what has been saved so far this year has come from tribes, cities and farmers in Arizona. Arizona Water Director Tom Buschatzke released a statement after the hearing and said that Commissioner Touton's description regarding conditions on the Colorado River system should remove any remaining doubt that the Colorado River states and federal partners "have a duty to take immediate action, no matter how

painful, to protect the system from crashing."

During the hearing, Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona noted Arizona's "junior water rights status" and observed that "if our state absorbed this 2-(million)-to-4 million-acre-foot loss, it would wipe out water deliveries to cities, tribes and farms in Phoenix and in Tucson."

Arizona's agricultural sector would suffer if water became scare. The state's annual output is evenly distributed between crops and livestock. About 47% of Arizona's agricultural production is in livestock, while the other 53% is in crops.

In terms of revenue generated, Arizona's top-five agricultural products are cattle and calves, lettuce, dairy products, cotton and hay. Arizona farmers supply the U.S. with vegetables and lettuce during the winter, with 90% of all leafy vegetables in the U.S. grown in Yuma County. Without irrigation, those crops would fail. Other important crops in Arizona are barley, potatoes and wheat.

Given that cattle and calves are the leading source of revenue in Arizona, hay is extremely important to the state, and drought has thinned supplies. USDA NASS reported that as of May 1, hay stocks on Arizona farms and ranches totaled a record-low 10,000 tons, down 50% from stocks of 20,000 tons on hand last year.

"We have done much in recent years to protect this vital system," Buschatzke said. "In implementing the reductions specified in the 2007 Interim Guidelines, the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan and the 500+ Plan, Arizona is on a path to reduce its use of Colorado River water by more than 800,000 acre-feet in 2022."

Just last week, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a $1 billion bill to expand conservation, look at water reuse, build more water storage and look at water desalinization in the state. (…)

In spite of all of Arizona's efforts, reservoir levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead have continued to decline. The trend of lower-than-average runoff, even with near-normal precipitation, is projected to continue, noted a news release.

"When earlier steps proved insufficient, we did more," Buschatzke said. "That needs to be our united approach going forward. Circumstances now beckon us further toward immediate and substantial actions. As a result, we in Arizona and water users across the Basin need to do more to protect the system."

Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plans:…

USDA 2021 Arizona agriculture overview:…

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