Painful deadline approaches as Colorado River reservoirs reach critical level

“The challenges we face today are unlike anything we have seen in our history,” Ms Touton said.

Levels in both reservoirs are at historic lows, due to falling flows and increased withdrawals from a river that supplies water to 40 million people and more than 5.5 million acres of land agricultural. A major concern is that Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam near the Arizona-Utah border, could sink so low next year that it could no longer generate hydroelectricity, and even the Water passage through the dam, downstream of the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead, could be affected.

Tina Shields, water manager for the Imperial Irrigation District in Southern California, which has rights to 3.1 million acre-feet of Colorado water, making it the largest user, said she was in talks “to determine the opportunities for participation in a voluntary program as well as the challenges necessary to move forward.

The need to submit proposals by next month “doesn’t make it any easier”, she said.

While few details of the talks across the region have been made public, some agricultural users are offering fallow fields, in return for financial compensation. Depending on the area fallow and the amount of water conserved, the compensation could reach billions of dollars. We don’t know where the money would come from.

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