Personally, I’m somewhat stumped on how things are going to play out in regard to “water” in the years ahead. Keep in mind, this is not just a US problem but a problem happening around the world. Over three-quarters of the earth is covered by water, but 97% is saline or salty ocean-type water, with only about 3% considered freshwater that comes from places like the ice-capes, groundwater, freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Freshwater is defined as water with less than 500 parts per million (ppm) of dissolved salts. Ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, icebergs, bogs, ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater are the sources of freshwater. In case you are wondering, I listed below the top five countries based on their freshwater reserves along with the latest water restrictions here at home.
- Brazil has the highest freshwater resources in the world which account for approximately 12% of the world’s freshwater resources. The Amazon region of the country contains about 70% of its total freshwater. (Amount: 8,233 Cubic Kilometre)
- Russia has the second largest freshwater reserve which is approximately 1/5 of freshwater in the world. (Amount: 4,508 Cubic Kilometre)
- United States has the third largest freshwater reserve. There are more than 100 lakes. (Amount: 3,069 Cubic Kilometre)
- Canada has the fourth largest freshwater reserve. (Amount: 2,902 Cubic Kilometre)
- China has the fifth largest freshwater reserve (Amount: 2,840 Cubic Kilometre)
Here at home, most farmers in the West will be disappointed but not surprised to learn that the US Federal government is further cutting water supplies to the region as shortages along the Colorado River reach a “tipping point.” The unprecedented cuts will immediately impact Arizona and Nevada after the states that depend on the river’s supplies missed a deadline to submit proposals to further cut water usage next year.
The Colorado River’s flow is divided up among seven states with designated water supplies for the Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico) and Lower Basin (California, Nevada and Arizona) as well as Mexico, where the river ends at the Sea of Cortez. The river supplies water to about 40 million people. About 70% of its water goes toward irrigation, sustaining some $15 billion in agricultural production that accounts for about 90% of the United States’ winter vegetable supplies.
The US Bureau of Reclamation on August 16 declared that the Lower Colorado River Basin will operate at what’s called a “Tier 2” shortage condition as of January, which will triggering additional water usage cuts of in Arizona and Nevada, as well as the country of Mexico. That means starting in 2023, Arizona’s water supplies will be a total of -21% lower than its initial allocation, while Nevada’s will be down -8%, and Mexico will lose a total of -7%. Lower Basin state California is not impacted by the cuts, nor are Upper Basin states.
The unprecedented cuts come as the Colorado River’s total systems storage sits at just 37% full, down from 46% last year. Officials say the basin’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, remain dangerously low as the 23-year “megadrought” continues to take its toll.
According to a new projection from the Department of Interior, water levels in Lake Mead, which supplies the Lower Basin, are expected to be below 1,050 feet above sea level come January – the threshold required to declare the Tier 2 operating conditions that start in 2023. If shrinking water levels don’t reverse, Lake Mead is projected to slide below the minimum protection elevation by next summer and possibly to the point where no power can be generated by Hoover Dam by 2024. Power production at the dam was already down -33% at the start of summer and output will continue to be reduced as water levels decline further.
Lake Powell is currently at just 26% of capacity, according to Chris Cutler, the manager for the Water and Power Services Division at the Bureau of Reclamation. The lake is projected to drop to just 23% of capacity by the end of 2022, and coming dangerously close to an electricity-generating threshold known as the “minimum power pool.” Lake Powll powers the Glen Canyon Dam, the second-biggest producer of hydroelectric power in the Southwestern US after Hoover Dam.
US officials earlier this year asked the seven states that depend on Colorado River supplies to work out a plan to make steep water use cuts of up to 4 million acre feet in 2023. The Bureau of Reclamation’s own modeling suggests that states need to cut at least 2.5 million acre-feet of water use in 2023 and beyond, simply to maintain minimum levels in the two reservoirs. The deadline of August 15 came and went with no agreement reached. It’s not clear if the government intends to impose additional water restrictions of its own but so far, nothing has been announced.