Colorado River water crisis reaches historic milestone

August 16, 2021

August 16, 2021 

Contact: Matt Rice, 803-422-5244 

Amy Kober, 503-708-1145 

Denver, CO — Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees Colorado River operations, declared a “Tier 1” water shortage at Lake Mead on the Colorado River, underscoring the severity of the deepening drought and climate crisis across the West. This is the first time in the river’s history that a Tier 1 shortage has been declared.  

The declaration will result in reduced water deliveries from the Colorado River to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico, and will trigger Drought Contingency Plans throughout the Lower Basin. The shortage conditions from the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan will go into effect starting in January 2022, but emergency actions in the Colorado Basin are already underway, as three reservoirs – Flaming Gorge in Wyoming, Blue Mesa in Colorado, and Navajo Reservoir in Colorado/New Mexico – are already releasing water to help slow the rapid decline of water levels in Lake Powell.  

Matt Rice, Colorado River Basin Director for American Rivers, made the follow statement: 

“While today’s declaration is not a surprise, it is the loudest alarm bell yet. We must start using less water, and we must find ways to do more with less water. The Colorado River is the lifeblood of our region and we must start living within our means. The only way through this crisis is with a strong plan and real leadership throughout the basin.” 

“These reductions will hurt, but we must use this moment to double down on lasting solutions including urban and industrial water conservation and re-use, agricultural efficiency, and prioritizing headwaters forest health and restoration. We can support economic, agricultural and community needs, provide certainty for river users, and ensure a healthy future for the Colorado River.”