A top federal water official told Congress on Tuesday that shortages on the Colorado River system have taken an even grimmer turn, with a whopping 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of reduction in water use needed by 2023 just to keep Lake Mead functioning and physically capable of delivering drinking water, irrigation and power to millions of people.
Levels at the reservoir have dropped to an all-time low of 28% of capacity, with no relief in sight, said Camille Touton, Bureau of Reclamation commissioner who testified early Tuesday to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"There is so much to this that is unprecedented," Touton said. "But unprecedented is now the reality and the normal in which Reclamation must manage our system, for warmer, drier weather is what we are facing."
Touton said accelerating climate change — including hotter temperatures leading to earlier and less snowfall, drier soil and other conditions — have created declines in reclamation systems never seen before. She said the new reality applies to every river basin they manage, but the Colorado River is the largest and most urgent focus.