AMWUA Blog

Jul 22 2019Share

Lake Mead Conditions Improve but Shortage Preparation is a Long-term Commitment

By Warren Tenney

Earlier this month the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) released its latest projections that shows a reduction in the risk of shortage triggered by declining water levels at Lake Mead. The status of the Lake has been in the spotlight as concern over those falling levels have risen. Risk reduction measures including the adoption of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) have been taken to protect the long-term sustainability of the Lake and the Colorado River system as a whole. While the overall outlook for Lake Mead continues to improve, at least for the immediate future, long-term preparations for shortage never ends.

BOR Projections Blog ChartJust in January, BOR projections painted a much different picture, and now the elevation levels for Lake Mead are expected to be higher than originally anticipated, lessening the chance of the reservoirs reaching critical levels as reflected in the comparison chart. Looking ahead to the next five years the projections show a minimal chance of critical elevations, but what does this really mean?

Well we are now seeing the impact from an unusually wet winter. In addition, this is the first time the voluntary cuts from DCP, which will leave more water in the reservoir, have been factored into Reclamation’s two-year forecast. Those benefits are reflected in the latest report that now show a zero to three percent chance of reaching a critical elevation level in the next five years.  Even with these positive developments, we must acknowledge that Lake Mead is still only half full. And we need to note that these are only projections, not a guarantee of a wetter future. This means it is important to remain focused on the long-term outlook, something the AMWUA cities constantly do.

As we continue to plan for the future, we know that we cannot accurately predict the weather nor can we rely on any guaranteed moisture. These circumstances are not new as we have been through these ups and downs numerous times over the course of our arid history. As we look back at most recent years, we saw those extremes and unpredictability up close. In 2018 we suffered through brutally dry conditions which were then followed by an incredibly moist winter in 2019. Unusually wet winters have not been typical in recent decades and most definitely are not consistent. Realistically, long-term drought has become our new normal and we must continue to prepare with the understanding that those circumstances are unlikely to change any time soon.

With that in mind, the AMWUA municipalities will continue to prepare for any future shortages, as they understand the importance of looking well into the future. That is precisely why they have invested in their infrastructure, diverse water supplies, underground storage and conservation programs, all of which remain priorities moving forward.

There is no doubt that these latest projections bring some short-term relief and highlight the immediate impact of DCP, but we must not lose sight of the big picture which lies well beyond this most recent outlook. So, with that in mind, strong water management, conservation and efficiency will remain priorities for the AMWUA cities. Long-term planning remains at the forefront, and we, as residents can also do our part to ensure we are ready for a drier future by  using water wisely, building drought-resistant landscapes, and making conservation our way of life. We know that every drop counts and it increases our collective resiliency for the long-term, especially here in the desert, where the only thing that remains predictable is our arid climate.   


For 50 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.


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