The mighty Colorado River isn’t so mighty anymore.
The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Tuesday steps will be taken to protect the increasingly fragile source of water.
“The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation. In turn, severe drought conditions exacerbate wildfire risk and ecosystems disruption, increasing the stress on communities and our landscapes,” said Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau.
The Colorado River, through reservoirs at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, provides drinking water to 40 million people in seven southwestern states including California. The river also provides water to Mexico.
“The dire situation on the Colorado River requires an unprecedented response…. We have no choice,” read a statement from the Metropolitan Water District, which imports water from the Colorado River.
“I say, ‘drought,’ but this is really the new norm for the foreseeable future,” said Kelly Rodgers, Ph.D., Director of the Colorado River Program for the San Diego County Water Authority.
Dr. Rodgers said California avoided any mandated restrictions Tuesday. However, Arizona and Nevada will have to cut how much they take from the river. Mexico will also have to reduce its usage.
“We urgently call on everyone who relies on Colorado River water, including communities across Southern California, to prepare for reduced supplies from this source, permanently…. We are all going to have to live with less,” added the MWD statement.
“Today’s announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation is a reminder of just how important it is to increase water conservation across San Diego County and the rest of the arid West. An increasingly hot and dry climate is creating unprecedented challenges for water supplies that will impact life in the Southwest for the foreseeable future,” added a statement from the Water Authority’s General Manager Sandra Kerl. “Investments by San Diego County residents in other water sources and storage facilities will continue to shield the region from the worst effects of the drought. At the same time, the potential for mandated water-use reductions should inspire every San Diegan to decrease their water use.”
Rodgers echoed that call to save more water and applauded the investments already made by SDCWA and its member water agencies.
“It’s really been three decades of investments we’ve made together to help secure our water future,” she said.
San Diego County water agencies have invested billions of dollars in saltwater desalination, recycled water programs and additional storage.