DALLAS — As water levels on Lake Mead continue to fall, users in Arizona, California and Nevada have agreed on voluntary restrictions to stave off federal rationing.
"Arizona, the other Lower Colorado River Basin states, and the Bureau of Reclamation recognize that in order to improve the reliability of the Colorado River system, proactive and voluntary actions are needed to develop between 1.5 to 3 million acre-feet of new water for Lake Mead by the end of 2019," according to a statement from the Central Arizona Project.
The memorandum of understanding is expected to be signed by the Bureau of Reclamation at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference on Dec. 10-12.
The reservoir on the Colorado River has fallen to 1,085 feet above sea level, only 10 feet above the level that would trigger federal cuts in supply to Arizona and Nevada.
The cuts could happen as early as 2016 if snowfall and rain again fall below normal.
"The drought response actions identified in the MOU provide initial steps in establishing proactive, voluntary measures to reduce our near-term risk of Lake Mead reaching critical reservoir levels and will help ensure the reliability of the Colorado River System," said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Michael Lacey.
The drought has affected the desert region for 14 years, though 2014 has seen an increase in precipitation. Indeed, record rainfall of 2.96 inches in a single day in September caused widespread flooding in Arizona, particularly in the Phoenix area. The single day record compares to an average of 2.71 inches for the entire rainy season in Phoenix.
With an average annual rainfall of 12.41 inches, Arizona gets 26.8 inches less rain than the national average of 39.17 inches. In Phoenix, rainfall has averaged 8.03 inches over the past 30 years, which is 80% below the national average.
Thus, Phoenix and surrounding cities in Maricopa County depend on water imported from the Colorado River via the 336-mile Central Arizona Project canal. The area also takes water via the Arizona Canal from reservoirs in Arizona operated by the Salt River Project.
The agencies, including the Central Arizona Project, will provide up to $11 million for projects proposed by Colorado River water-entitlement holders that "physically leave water in the system," officials said.
"While perhaps modest, this step may help us avoid or delay shortages and is the beginning of a broader effort to address the larger risks facing the Colorado River system," said Central Arizona Project's Board President Pam Pickard. "In order to implement the MOU, CAP is developing strategic and innovative partnerships with our municipal customers like the City of Phoenix and our agricultural customers to save Colorado River water."