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Arizona, Nevada Will Not Face Water Cutbacks From Lake Mead Next Year

Despite record lows at Lake Mead in recent months, Arizona and Nevada will not face cutbacks in water deliveries from Lake Mead next year.

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Reclamation released its August projections for the water level of Lake Mead at the beginning of next year, which predict the reservoir will be about four feet above the trigger point of 1,075 feet.

USBR spokesperson Rose Davis credits the various conservation efforts among the Lower Basin states and Mexico, which have left enough water in the reservoir to help avert a shortage.

“We have four conservation programs that have been implemented since 2014 that have actually kept about 10 feet of water in Lake Mead," Davis said.

Under the current guidelines, Arizona loses the most water if a shortage is declared. 

“We made this happen," Arizona's director of the department of water resources Tom Buschatzke told KJZZ.

However, the outlook for 2018 is not as bright. The USBR's study indicates the water level will be hovering just below the threshold. But Buschatzke cautions that winter could change the situation significantly and through collaboration with all the Colorado River water users, they could repeat this year’s success.

“If we come up with seven-tenths [of] a foot, we can change that outcome, the way we changed the outcome for 2017,” he said.

Under the current agreement, Arizona loses more than 300,000 acre feet during a level 1 shortage. Even if that doesn’t happen in 2018, Arizona may still have to give up some water that year. The Lower Basin states that depend on Lake Mead as well as the federal government are currently brokering a deal that would reduce Arizona's water deliveries by almost 200,000 acre feet when the reservoir levels falls below 1,090 feet.

Buschatzke said they are currently working with stakeholders within the state to figure out who will give up that water.

The goal of this so-called Drought Contingency Plan is to sacrifice some of Arizona's 2.8 million acre feet of Colorado River water sooner to avoid an even more dire situation later on. "We'll give up a little bit of that water now to protect against taking more draconian type shortages at some point in the future," Buschatzke said. "That's the trade off."

The agreement will not only require buy in from users of Central Arizona Project water, but also legislative approval.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to include comments from Mr. Buschatzke.

Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.