The American West is in trouble, bad trouble.

Nearly 93% of these Western lands, like those in Utah, that are fed by the Colorado River are in drought, with as much as 70% of this region in severe drought.

“The system is approaching its tipping point and without action, we cannot protect the system and the millions of Americans who rely on this critical resource,” said Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton in a briefing Tuesday. “Reclamations’ announcements today center on our inherent purpose of meeting our mission to protect the system and to ensure that the city’s agricultural communities, tribal nations and the environment are sustained not just next year, but for the future.”

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The Colorado River will be operating under what is called a “Tier 2” shortage, which means Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will have to further reduce their Colorado River use beginning in January. California will not yet have cuts made to the water it receives from the Colorado River.

“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.

Of the states most impacted, Arizona will face the largest cuts — 592,000 acre-feet — or approximately 21% of the state’s yearly allotment of river water.

Other cuts:

  • Nevada: 25,000 acre-feet, which is 8% of the state’s annual apportionment.
  • Mexico: 104,000 acre-feet, which is approximately 7% of the country’s annual allotment.

Bureau officials are extremely worried that Lake Powell’s water elevation will drop precipitously low in 2023 — jeopardizing power production for millions of customers.

Calimlim Touton said right now, the Colorado River Basin is in its 23rd year of a historic drought. Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead — the two largest reservoirs in the United States — are at historically low levels with combined storage of 28% of their capacity.

“What we’re doing today is protecting the people. We are taking steps to protect the 40 million people who depend on the Colorado River for their lives and livelihood.”

This trouble on the river has galvanized a $4 billion investment for the Colorado River by the Biden administration to address system shortages and boost water saving efforts.

It’s a dire situation that seems to have no hope in sight.

“We simply have no choice,” said Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science Tanya Trujillo.

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“We started the process in which we will develop these tools to take the action where we see it necessary for the system,” said Calimlim Touton. “But I want to be very clear our relationship in the basin is iron clad. We’re continuing to work with the basin states because we believe that the solution here is one of partnership. But we’re going to continue to work towards developing these tools because we need to be able to protect the system and protecting the system means protecting the people that call the American West home.”

What the bureau did make clear Tuesday is that despite these dire shortages on the Colorado River system, it is committed to maintaining operational integrity at both Glen Canyon and Hoover dams.

“With respect to our operational investigations, we are focused on maintaining the integrity of the existing structures and the existing system,” Trujillo said. ”And that’s our highest priority, (it’s) what drove the emergency actions we took this spring. That’s what’s continued to be our focus. As we talk with the basin states, the basin tribes and our partners in Mexico, we need to be able to ensure that we have the infrastructure intact capable to protect the water supplies for everybody that relies on it.”

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As commissioner of the Colorado River Basin in Utah, Gene Shawcroft reacted to the bureau’s announcement and said he didn’t expect cuts to the upper basin states like Utah with this new new direction the federal bureau is taking.

He emphasized that the upper basin states had put together a water savings plan, which is still under review by the federal government.

“The actions that the upper basin states have put on the table at this point will not require that we take cuts. However, the important part is this, as you know, this is the beginning of a new era in the state of Utah where we have got to be in a position to use a significant amount of water less than we’ve used in the past. We simply cannot continue where we are and so the conservation efforts that we’ve started, that are being ramped up need to continue.”