Spring and summer rain in Colorado means no shortage declaration. Whew

Monthly percent of normal precipitation. May 2015.
Monthly percent of normal precipitation. May 2015.

Water geeks are closely watching Lake Mead water levels. If the lake drops below 1075 feet, it triggers a mandatory shortage declaration, which would lead to all sorts of nasty consequences, cause serious water conflicts, plus much gnashing of teeth. Trust me, no one wants to go there. Happily, an unexpectedly rainy spring and summer in Colorado means this almost certainly will not happen in 2016 or 2017.

The number to watch is a Lake Mead elevation of 1,075, and the date to watch is January 1. The forecast in the latest 24-month study puts us at 1,082.12 on Jan. 1, 2016. That means that unless something crazy happens, like El Chapo’s tunnel dudes drill a hole in the bottom of Hoover Dam and steal 700,000 acre feet of water, it looks like a 2016 shortage declaration is completely off the table.

For 2017, things are also looking better.

The Colorado River is a major provider of water for seven states (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) as well as Mexico. Rules and laws governing it are a bewildering thicket indeed. It is the most litigated river on earth.

Don’t you just love the two boat Arizona navy?

The compact was the fruit of several years of negotiations among the states. The seven states had previously formed the League of the Southwest in 1917 to promote development along the river. In 1921, Congress authorized the states to enter into a compact for allocation of the river resources. The agreement was approved by Congress in 1922, the same year it was signed.

In 1934, Arizona, unhappy with California’s decision to dam and divert the river, called out the National Guard and even commissioned a two boat “navy.” The matter was eventually settled in court.

The agreement was controversial even at the time, however. Arizona, for example, was dissatisfied with the lower basin allotment and refused to ratify the agreement until 1944. The specific allotments were disputed by Arizona until the United States Supreme Court upheld the amount in the 1963 decision in Arizona v. California. The agreement ended many years of dispute, clearing the way for the Central Arizona Project, authorized by Congress in 1968.

Meanwhile, El Nino continues to gain strength and could be the biggest in fifty years.


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