September 12, 2013--Forecast for Colorado River basin: Dry with a chance of shortage (Yuma Sun)

There's a better than 50 percent chance of an official water shortage being declared in 2016 for the Lower Colorado River Basin as a result of the drought that has gripped the river's watershed for the last 14 years. Should a shortage be declared, Arizona would bear the brunt of the reduction in water. That's if the current trend continues, Daniel Bunk, a hydrologist for the Lower Colorado Region with the the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, told the Colorado River Citizens Forum Wednesday during an update on the status of the Colorado River Basin. He noted that 2000 to 2013 was the driest 14-year period in more than 100 years of historical record. And based on tree ring studies, it is the fourth or fifth driest period in the past 1,200 years. But it's very variable, he said. For example, in the midst of the 14-year drought, 2011 was one of the wettest years for the river system followed by the two driest years back to back in the last 100 years. "There's a lot of uncertainty from year to year," Bunk concluded. But so far things aren't looking promising for some relief. The snowpack last winter peaked at 81 percent of average, he said. That doesn't mean the system had 81 percent of runoff, though, he noted. It was more like 50 percent runoff with that 81 percent snowpack. "The bottom line is that we didn't get much snow," he said. As a result, water from Lake Powell being released into Lake Mead will be reduced by 750,000 acre-feet in the coming year. That will speed the decline of Lake Mead, which is expected to drop to a record low by November 2014.

For 2014, Lake Mead is still projected to have a normal operating year, Bunk said. For 2015, there's a 1 to 2 percent chance of an official shortage declaration. But that jumps to more than a 50 percent chance in 2016 if the drought continues. If a shortage is declared by the Secretary of the Interior, Arizona would bear by far the biggest impact, according to an agreement in 2007 that established shortage sharing guidelines. Under the guidelines, Arizona, which is allocated 2.8 million acre-feet of Colorado River water a year, would receive 320,000 acre-feet less water. Nevada would receive 13,000 acre-feet less water and Mexico 50,000 acre-feet less. California would not be impacted. But it's expected that Arizona's reduced allocation would be managed primarily by the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which holds a junior rights priority for the 1.6 million acre-feet of water it receives from the Colorado River. Asked how CAP would manage that potential reduction in water, Chuck Cullom, CAP representative on the forum, responded that agriculture in central Arizona would see the biggest reductions. There would also be some cuts in water to the Arizona Water Banking Authority and to groundwater replenishment. Urban water consumers would be protected but there would be some changes in outdoor use of water.

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