The Risk

#1 The Colorado River is suffering an extended drought and overallocation

The Colorado River is now in its 17th year of drought and is also overallocated. This overallocation means the Lower Basin states are promised more water than is actually available in an average year. Arizona water leaders, including CAP, have been working together with the federal government, partner states in the Colorado River basin, and Mexico to address these issues.

Family in Lake Mead

#2 Lake Mead water levels are low

The combination of drought and overallocation creates a structural deficit, which is the imbalance between supply and demand on the Colorado River. This results in more water being taken out of Lake Mead than is flowing in, causing the lake level to fall approximately 12 feet per year.

#3 If lake levels fall below 1075' there will be a shortage

Lake Mead is the country’s largest reservoir and a key component in the Colorado River system. The declaration of a Colorado River shortage is based on the water level in Lake Mead. Currently the water level is just a few feet from the first shortage trigger level.

#4 A new agreement is necessary to protect against catastrophically low levels in Lake Mead

If a shortage is declared, CAP’s Colorado River water supply would be reduced because CAP holds a junior priority water entitlement among the Lower Basin states. A near-term shortage would not impact water supplies for Arizona's cities, towns, industries, mines or tribes using CAP water, but it would halt water deliveries for recharge and reduce a portion of the CAP water supply identified for groundwater replenishment. A shortage would also impact agricultural users in central Arizona and cause an increase in CAP water rates.

Sailboats Lake MeadIf more severe shortages are declared and Arizona's supply of Colorado River water is reduced further, CAP, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Arizona Water Banking Authority are developing plans to recover stored water and deliver these supplies should the need arise. In addition, CAP and its partners may consider programs that would go beyond local level conservation and might include acquisition of water supplies that, today, look expensive compared to what we now have. It will cost more to maintain the reliable water supply and the lifestyle we enjoy in Arizona.

#5 Continued collaboration and conservation can mitigate the future risk of shortage

This year there is no shortage on the Colorado River system. This positive declaration can be attributed to water left behind in Lake Mead for the past few years by CAP and its partners, which was accomplished through three approaches: reducing demand (conservation), increasing supply (augmentation) and implementing system efficiencies.

But these are currently voluntary, temporary programs so CAP and its local and interstate partners are working to extend existing conservation tools to avoid shortage in 2018, 2019 and possibly even 2020 during which time water managers may develop longer-term solutions to address the risks of critical shortages on the Colorado River.