Arizona farmers are bracing for water cuts next year after the Bureau of Reclamation announced a historic shortage at Lake Mead, which collects water from the Lower Colorado River Basin.

“Pinal County agriculture faces a dire reality,” the Arizona Farm Bureau said. “Beginning in 2022, farms in Central Arizona will lose access to nearly half of the water on which they now rely to grow food and fiber for Arizona’s families. This will have a devastating impact on each farming family in that county, and the surrounding communities will feel the ripple effects for years to come.”

The water elevation at Lake Mead is projected to be about 1,066 feet by Jan. 1, nine feet below the level at which a “Level 1” shortage condition would be triggered. “Based on this projection, Lake Mead will operate in a Level 1 Shortage Condition for the first time ever,” the Bureau of Reclamation said Monday. The water is at its lowest level since the 1930s.

The cutbacks will leave Arizona with 18% of its normal allotment; Mexico will get 5% and Nevada 7%.

The Arizona Farm Bureau said irrigation districts in Central Arizona “are working diligently to improve and expand well infrastructure to help replace some of the lost water with groundwater,” but even with increased pumping capacity, “there are no options currently available to fully mitigate the economic or environmental impacts of this shortage.”

Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse called for “significant investments in water infrastructure.”

The infrastructure bill that passed the Senate has about $3.2 billion for aging infrastructure in the West as well as $1.15 billion for water storage, groundwater storage, and conveyance, and funding for water recycling, desalination, rural water projects, dam safety, the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency plan, waterSMART grants, watershed health, and aquatic ecosystems.

The announcement of a shortage at Lake Mead “underscores the value of the collaborative agreements we have in place with the seven basin states, Tribes, water users and Mexico in the management of water in the Colorado River Basin,” Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Touton said. 

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“While these agreements and actions have reduced the risk, we have not eliminated the potential for continued decline of these critically important reservoirs,” she added. “Reclamation is committed to working with all of our partners in the basin and with Mexico in continuing to implement these agreements and the ongoing work ahead.”

Pinal County, located south of Phoenix, ranks first in the state for cotton, barley and livestock production, according to the Farm Bureau. It also ranks in the top 7% of all counties in the country for vegetable production and fruit and nut production.

James Hanks, president of California's Imperial Irrigation District, said it is not directly affected by the announcement but will be "actively monitoring the ongoing drought conditions and forecasted reservoir elevations as the district looks to protect the Imperial Valley’s sole water supply.

"IID supports a collaborative approach to river management and renewed efforts of the Basin States to ensure the long-term reliability of the Colorado River system," he added. "However, the district will protect and defend the senior water rights that form the foundation of our rural community."

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