Colorado River not doing job

Brought just one-eighth of water needed

By Shaun McKinnon

The Arizona Republic

Sept. 09, 2002 12:00:00

Special report

• A long, dry streak

The drought-stricken Colorado River delivered barely one-eighth the amount of water needed to supply Arizona, Nevada and California this year, leaving the three states to draw heavily on water stored in Lakes Mead and Powell.

Without the reservoirs, Arizona's share of the river would have dried up months ago and Valley residents would face severe water-use restrictions.

Just 1.1 million acre-feet of water flowed into Lake Powell from the upper Colorado this year, about 14 percent of normal, according to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Together, the three states take about 8.3 million acre-feet of water a year from the river and its system of reservoirs.

An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, enough water to serve a family of five for a year.

Storage on the Salt River Project system, which provides nearly half of the Valley's drinking water, has fallen to 25 percent of capacity. The utility has reinforced its supply with water from the Colorado River, delivered to Phoenix and Tucson via the Central Arizona Project canal.

Even with the CAP water, SRP officials are expected to vote today to reduce water deliveries next year by one-third, forcing most cities to tap more deeply into the Colorado.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead normally store a four- to five-year supply of water for Arizona, Nevada and California, the three lower Colorado River Basin states. But storage has fallen to about 65 percent of normal, and lake levels have plunged.