Arizona absorbs highest cuts from Lake Mead drought

FILE - A formerly sunken boat stands upright into the air with its stern buried in the mud along the shoreline of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on June 22, 2022, near Boulder City, Nev. Federal officials on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, are expected to announce water cuts that would further reduce how much Colorado River water some users in the seven U.S. states reliant on the river and Mexico receive. (AP Photo/John Locher, File) (John Locher, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

A once-in-a-lifetime drought in the West continues to impact the Colorado River by dropping water levels at an extraordinary rate. This has a huge impact on the nation’s largest reservoirs -- Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which decides where the water goes and how much they get, announced this week that water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell have reached a tipping point.

Lake Mead from 2000-2022 (NASA)

Lake Mead will operate in its first-ever Level 2a Shortage Condition in the calendar year 2023 (Jan. 1, 2023, through Dec. 31, 2023).

What does this mean? It means that those who receive water from the reservoirs will have to cut back.

  • Arizona will see the largest cuts at approximately 21% of the state’s annual apportionment in 2023.
  • Nevada will see a cut of 8% of the state’s annual apportionment.
  • Mexico will see approximately 7% of the country’s annual allotment
  • California, which is where most of the country’s produce comes from, will see no required water cuts for 2023 under this operating condition.

Lake Powell will operate in the Lower Elevation Balancing Tier in water year 2023 (Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023). Lake Powell is a large lake for water recreation and the National Parks Service has closed six of the seven boat ramps.

Looking ahead, Arizona is experiencing monsoon season flooding with heavy rainfall covering the state. It’s important to remember that rainfall has little impact on the reservoirs; their water comes mostly from snowmelt up in Colorado.

This photograph provided by Stephen McNerney shows mud left behind by flooding around McNerney's home on the outskirts of Flagstaff, Arizona, in mid-July 2022. Flagstaff has been inundated with rain from the annual monsoon, which has worsened flooding in neighborhoods where wildfires burned this spring. (Stephen McNerney via AP) (Stephen McNerney)

In fact, heavy rainfall in Arizona will likely cause flooding rather than help increase the water supply in lakes and rivers. Arizona’s dry rocky soil does not absorb water well, allowing flood conditions to develop quickly without warning.

With no immediate relief in sight for this drought out west, it’s likely those across the United States, including Florida, will see impacts to the crops and the distribution of produce heading into 2023.


About the Author:

Danielle forecasts the weather on the weekends and reports on climate, environment and other issues during the week