The Colorado River millennial mega-drought continues, despite robust snowpack last winter. Above-average temperatures in spring resulted in a paltry 57% runoff, nowhere near enough water to refill the reservoirs that remain half-empty. Based on these conditions, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently determined that 2021 will be a “tier zero” year under the Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, with reduced water deliveries for Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. Audubon advocated over several years for the states to adopt this plan that is needed to avoid catastrophic water shortages that would impact people and nature in prolonged and severe dry periods.
The good news is that the Lower Basin water users have demonstrated they can conserve water at scale through system conservation and key partnerships. In 2019, Arizona, California, and Nevada together used just over 6.5 million acre-feet of water, out of 7.5 million acre-feet available to them. Their voluntary reductions have been substantial, and are keeping Lake Mead from further declines, despite the terrible hydrology. Water users are demonstrating that we can adapt to a shrinking water supply with water conservation. As climate change impacts grow in the Colorado River Basin, water conservation will help rural and urban communities thrive while ensuring the sustainability of important bird habitats.