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Water has long been a precious desert resource—so much so, that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation studies conditions year round, reporting 24-month projections via its monthly Operation Plan for Colorado System Reservoirs 24-Month Study. The potential for "shortage” has been around for quite a while, but the latest study released this week brings that word a bit closer to reality—indicating the possibility that Central Arizona Project (CAP) water deliveries will be reduced as early as 2016.

While that date is certainly sooner than was projected a few years ago, it doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Arizona has been preparing for a shortage on the Colorado River for decades. Our state leads the nation in conservation and long-term water management, including storing millions of acre-free of water underground as a back-up supply.

What would happen to CAP if the Colorado River experiences a shortage in 2016? Water deliveries would be reduced by 320,000 acre-feet—or by about 20 percent. While that sounds like a big number, the cities, residential users and Native American Indian tribes served by CAP would still receive their full water allocations. That’s not to say there would be zero impact—underground storage activities by the Arizona Water Banking Authority and Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, as well as certain agricultural water users would be affected.

The likelihood of a 2016 shortage is subject to change, particularly if above-normal runoff conditions occur in 2014 or 2015. Regardless, in addition to continuing to support the state’s conservation efforts, CAP will be working even more closely with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, other Colorado River water users and the federal government to seek creative management solutions in the short term and augmentation of supplies in the long term.

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