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City of Phoenix commits to leave more Colorado River water in Lake Mead

By: - July 7, 2022 2:18 pm

A ‘bathtub ring’ of mineral deposits left by higher water levels is visible at the drought-stricken Lake Mead on June 24, 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reported that Lake Mead, North America’s largest artificial reservoir, has dropped to about 1,044 feet above sea level, the lowest it’s been since being filled in 1937 after the construction of the Hoover Dam. The declining water levels are a result of a climate change-fueled megadrought coupled with increased water demands in the Southwestern United States. Fears are increasing that Lake Mead could in years ahead become a “dead pool.” when the water levels become too low to flow downstream from nearby Hoover Dam. Photo by Mario Tama | Getty Images

In an effort to keep water levels in Lake Mead from declining at a drastic rate, the City of Phoenix announced that it will leave an additional 14,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water in the lake this year. 

Mayor Kate Gallego and members of the Phoenix City Council approved the move on July 1 as part of the 500+ Plan, an organized effort among various entities to stop the lake’s decline by conserving 500,000 acre-feet a year.


“In this time of extreme drought, it is not easy to convince governments to leave water behind,” Gallego said in a press release. “However, I believe we are all acutely focused on what it will take to help Arizona communities thrive for the long term. In Phoenix, that means we make reasonable sacrifices now, to ensure we can continue to welcome people who want to live here, as well as the businesses that want to set up shop here.”

The City of Phoenix made its first contribution to the 500+ Plan in January, and with the July 1 action, it will have contributed a total of 30,000 acre-feet.

By leaving water in Lake Mead, the City of Phoenix will receive about $7.8 million in funding from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the press release stated. The funds will be placed in the city’s Water Revenue Fund to help purchase water from other sources and fund conservation programs.

The Gila River Indian Community, the City of Tucson, the City of Phoenix and other communities across the region, and the state, have agreed to be part of the solution by making their own contributions.

The 500+ plan aims to add 500,000 acre-feet of additional water to Lake Mead both this year and in 2023 by supporting and funding actions to conserve water across the Lower Colorado River Basin, according to the Gila River Indian Community.

An acre-foot is the amount of water necessary to flood one acre of land to a depth of one foot, the City of Phoenix stated. That equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water for three single-family homes in the Phoenix metro area.

Gallego thanked Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis for his leadership in bringing stakeholders together. 

In December 2021, Lewis signed two agreements with the United States Bureau of Reclamation stating that the Gila River Indian Community would conserve over 129,000 acre-feet of its Colorado River water entitlement in 2022 to keep Lake Mead from falling to critically low levels.

“It is also true that cities and Indian communities cannot solve this issue on our own,” Gallego said in a written statement. “We need to see proportional action across sectors – particularly agriculture, which uses 70% of available Colorado River water.”

Water users in Phoenix consume 30% less water per capita than they did 30 years ago, according to the City of Phoenix, even as the city has experienced massive population growth over the same period.

“We need that conservation trend to continue,” Gallego said. “But as the drought stretches on, we are constantly looking for ways to be even better stewards of our most precious resource.”


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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.