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Water is our lifeblood as humans, needed to sustain life, livestock, and livelihoods. So the news that the prediction that the Colorado River flows feeding Lake Powell will continue to fall far below what is needed is grim.  In fact, 2023 flows are expected to be just 24 percent of average this coming year.

This past week some 1,300 key water users attended the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas (surely a drain on that area’s water supply, right?). It was a pivotal meeting, coming on the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact.

States that divide the flow of the Colorado River. Image courtesy of Mission 20212 Clean Water.

That compact, agreed upon by all the states who get water from the Colorado River, was negotiated at the high point of snowpack and water flows on the Colorado. It’s been basically downhill ever since.

At the event, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton announced their forecast that in their estimation, it is unlikely that Lake Powell is able to recover before 2025.

That water is provided by the river flow from the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. If flows are likely to be just 24 percent of average this year, it will be unlikely these four states can meet their legal commitment to deliver a minimum of seven million acre-feet of water to the Lower Basin. That amount is already reduced from the historical delivery obligation due to low flows on the river.

“If they are accurate, and if so, I don’t know why they didn’t forecast the disaster that has already occurred, this is serious,” said the Chair of the Chaffee Board of County Commissioners Greg Felt, who happens to sit on three major water boards in the state. He noted that the Fed’s forecasting hasn’t been good. “We had an 88 percent of normal snowpack two years ago – so they predicted 88 percent flow. They got something like 40 percent.”

Felt pointed out that the four Upper Basin states have already conserved and the Lower Basin states need to do more. “According to their prediction, the water flowing into Lake Powell next year will be 24 percent of normal. We will hit a power crisis this year when we won’t be able to generate power [at the hydro-electric dam at Lake Powell).

Inaccurate forecasting combined with a now 23-year Western drought (which climate experts say is the worst in 1,200 years) represents the reality. This isn’t just seasonal variation; it could be called a climate-induced water flow shortage.

In a sign that at least one of the Lower Basin states – California — is beginning to realize how serious this is, the nation’s largest water supplier, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that supplies 26 different water agencies, this past week finally declared a drought emergency. This clears the way for potential mandatory water restrictions by early next year, affecting 19 million people. “About time,” say Upper Basin states.

Given what might lie ahead as the Western drought continues, and with uncertainty coming from federal forecasting Felt added: “In my opinion, they are beyond complicit … forecasting is their job. I just don’t want to see Colorado picking up the tab.”

For more in-depth coverage of the conference and the Colorado River water crisis, Ark Valley Voice recommends: