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Thu, Nov. 14

Colorado River basin 'in a serious situation'

Farm land being developed in the Kingman area is one of many factors prompting people to worry about future water supplies.

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<BR> Farm land being developed in the Kingman area is one of many factors prompting people to worry about future water supplies.

KINGMAN - Drought, anticipated population increases and a growing imbalance between water supply and demand have placed Mohave County's water supply among the most endangered river basins in the country.

The Colorado River basin ranked most-endangered river in the country last year by American Rivers, a conservation organization.

This year the Colorado River basin made the top 10 list once again at second-most endangered, next to California's San Joaquin, according to an annual report released Wednesday.

The upper basin is of specific concern for the Colorado River given the wildlife. Also on the list is the Gila River in New Mexico, a tributary of the Colorado River.

The organization credits the endangerment of both water bodies to water diversion and wasteful, outdated water management practices.

Between them both is Mohave County and the lower Colorado River basin, which the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation states in a 2012 report has water demands on the Colorado River beyond the specified 7.5 million acre-feet apportionment.

The upper basin states are under an amalgamated contract called "the Law of the River" to maintain the river's health and elevation levels so that a reliable source of water can reach lower basin states such as Arizona Nevada, and California.

"We're in the midst of a 14-year drought. This year we got less water from Lake Powell into Lake Mead since the two reservoirs began working together," said Rose Davis, public information officer for the Bureau of Reclamation's Lower Basin Colorado River office. "While we're in a serious situation, we were able to make all our water deliveries in 2014, and we're awaiting the arrival of the melting snow pack."

Snows melt throughout the spring season and feed into the Colorado River basin, Davis said, and right now the snow pack level is between 110 to 113 percent greater than normal.

"So it's good news right now," she said, though they will have to wait until summer to determine how many extra gallons that could translate to. "We don't foresee any shortage declarations at this point for 2014, so everybody will be at their normal water point."

But the agency is still keeping a close eye on the Department of the Interior's 2012 report, which did not have good news and served as a wake-up call, Davis said.

"It projected an imbalance in supply and demand, so Reclamation is certainly a believer in water recycling and reuse, but those are programs implemented at the local level," she said. "We help with expertise and grant funding, but the communities and the states deserve a huge amount of credit for the different ways they have implemented water recycling programs."

The Lower Division States, which include Arizona, have water demands on the Colorado River beyond their 7.5 million acre-feet apportionments.

Across all scenarios in the lower Colorado River basin states, the long-term projected imbalance in future supply and demand is right around 3.2 million acres-feet by 2060, according to the Bureau of Reclamation's report.

One of two indicators used to measure basin "vulnerability" in the report extends into portions of Mohave County at Lake Mead: an overall indication of system reliability can be assessed by Lake Mead's elevation dropping below 1,000 feet above mean sea level in any month.

Analysis comparisons drawn in the report indicate that without action, it will become increasingly difficult for the system to meet basin resource needs over the next 50 years. While implementing new practices may result in a predicted 16 percent improvement, as indicated by elevated water levels at Lake Mead, results indicate the basin will nevertheless remain vulnerable.

Augmentation, reuse and conservation were the only options included in the analysis that could satisfy future demands of the basin, the report concludes.

"There is no bad time to do conservation," said Davis. "There just isn't."

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