Western States Make Ambitious Water Conservation Plans Amid Historic Megadrought

Western States Make Ambitious Water Conservation Plans Amid Historic Megadrought

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is attempting an ambitious water security plan, aiming to spend $1.16 billion over the next three years to make the state more drought-resilient. Most notably, this plan includes constructing desalination plants in Mexico, which would remove salt from seawater to make it potable. Along with other southwestern states, Arizona would take some of Mexico’s water shares from the Colorado River in exchange for some of this desalinated water.

Meanwhile, California is responding to its dry conditions with new water cuts. Water agencies serving 27 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland will get only 5% of what they've requested this year, down from the 15% allocation state officials promised in January.

CBS 5 & 3TV Phoenix: Arizona to face water cuts after first shortage declaration issued, February 25, 2022.

KTLA: California farmers hit again with water cuts, March 2, 2022.

Why This Matters

The Western US has been in the midst of a megadrought for the past 22 years (the driest period in 1,200 years), intensified by climate change. This has had a profound effect on the region’s water levels. Last year, the Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage for the first time ever in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US. Last week, Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the country, hit lows even more extreme than last year’s record-breaking water shortage. Meanwhile, after the US experienced its hottest December on record, snowpacks continued to thin, depleting water stores even further for Western states desperately in need.

PBS: Western states face a bleak future amid the worst drought in more than 1,000 years, February 15, 2022.

CBS: What the megadrought means to the American West, July 18, 2021.

A Race For Solutions

Arizona’s plan to desalinate water south of the border is risky, energy-intensive, and expensive. Moreover, it’s difficult to dispose of the salty brine excreted from the desalination process. But this plan could produce a "drought-proof” water source, increasingly important as the world continues to warm. Inside Climate News reports:

According to a 2020 binational study involving Lower Colorado River Basin states and Mexico, the plants would produce upwards of 200,000 acre-feet of desalinated water each year for a price of about $2,000 per acre-foot, making up for less than a fifth of the water deficit the Lower Basin states and Mexico are expected to see by 2030.

In California, water restrictions have been contentious. Opponents of California's water policy say the state relies on water that it doesn’t actually have. Doug Obegi, an attorney focused on water for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told CBS: "We basically have a system that is all but bankrupt because we promised so much more water than can actually be delivered.”

NBC: Drought causing Arizona farmers to try new water-saving technology, February 21, 2022.

CBS: California Falls Behind Water Conservation Goal, March 16, 2022.

WW0: Newsmaker of the Week - Jacob Morrison, director of River's End, October 28, 2021.