BY: Warren Tenney

Lake Mead Better than Last Year - What Does that Really Mean?

Published Aug 19, 2019

An unusually wet winter combined with the impact of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) , which improves the overall management of the over-taxed Colorado River and ensures more water remains in Lake Mead, means Arizona will avoid a Tier 1 shortage on the River in 2020.  Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) released its August 24-Month Study , showing the Lake’s elevation will be above the critical 1075’ elevation, which is the trigger point for a Tier 1 shortage.

Due to a record-breaking drought, the Colorado River system has been stressed for the last two decades.  Yet, with the unexpectedly wet winter, Lake Mead’s elevation is much higher than what had been originally anticipated earlier this year, giving water managers a welcomed sigh of relief.

The importance of the August 24-month study is that it determines how the Colorado River system will be managed the following year. The study shows Lake Mead’s levels will be just below the 1090’ mark come January, which means the system will be at Tier Zero.  While Tier Zero does require a mandatory reduction of 192,000 acre-feet in Arizona’s Colorado River water supply, the volume of that reduction is actually very similar to what Arizona water users have already been voluntarily conserving in Lake Mead since 2015. As a result of this water stewardship, Arizona is already prepared to manage the impacts of Tier Zero.

So what does this all mean for us here in the Valley?  Simply this:

  • There will be no immediate impact to our municipal water supplies, so a shortage on the Colorado River does not mean shortage at your tap.
  • Valley cities have been preparing for a shortage on the Colorado River for decades and will continue to do so, as long-term preparations mean a more secure water future.
  • We all need to use water wisely to increase our resiliency for the long-term, because conservation and efficiency are our way of life in the desert.

Now as we head into a drier future, the Colorado River system will continue to be strained, that is why the AMWUA cities will continue to prepare and take steps, so they are ready. They have invested in their infrastructure, diverse water supplies, water storage and conservation programs – all of which are part of their long-term water management and ensures water continues to flow in the Valley, regardless of the challenges which may lay ahead.

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 .

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