Colorado River Basin Drought: Biden Admin Proposes Questionable Water Supply Reduction

The severe long-term drought and low run-off circumstances have prompted the Biden administration to propose a federal mandate to decrease water delivery to 40 million Americans residing in western states depending on the Colorado River Basin. This would allegedly be done to address the problem.

These measures were included in a report draft prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation of the Department of the Interior (DOI).

Current standards for the short-term operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams are proposed for revision in the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

According to the Department of the Interior, this action is being taken as part of the efforts made by the Biden administration to invest in climate change resistance for the Colorado River Basin and all of the people who depend on it.

Forty million Americans rely on the river system. The draft report investigates various options for ensuring its future water supplies and hydropower output.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead, two artificial lakes on the Utah-Arizona border, are dangerously low and are approaching dead pool levels, threatening water supplies and hydropower-generated electricity for tens of millions of Americans.

Two alternatives to the current dam management are proposed in the draft study. Reducing consumption from the Glen Canyon Dam and adapting to new water scarcity go hand in hand. The two plans differ primarily on how they would divide up the shortfalls.

The first choice, “Action Alternative 1,” attempted to simulate the shortages by assigning higher priority to those with more secure water rights. The second plan, labeled “Alternative 2,” assumed that all Lower Basin water users would make do with the same amount of water during times of scarcity.

As the water level in Lake Mead decreases, both proposals forecast increasingly severe water shortages, with 2025 and 2026 seeing even more severe shortages than 2024.

The final environmental impact statement for the 2007 Interim Guidelines examined a maximum amount of water shortages in 2024 of 2.083 million acre-feet.

However, junior water rights holders, such as an Arizona firm that distributes water to Phoenix, would be disproportionately harmed by the DOI’s first proposed action, which would favor the agriculture industry in California.

If the Department of the Interior takes its second suggested step, all Lower Basin states would see decreases regardless of their relative water scarcity.

Both measures would necessitate more severe cuts to supply as Lake Mead’s level dropped.

The Department of Interior claims that the draft report’s alternatives address potential shortages if such measures are required in 2024–2026 to protect the operations of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dam, the integrity of the system, and public health and safety.

The public will have 45 days to see the draft report and provide feedback before a final decision is made in the summer.