Senate looks at western drought

Market to Market | Clip
Jun 17, 2022 | 4 min

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the deepening drought in the western U.S.


This week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the growing drought in the western third of the United States.

John Entsminger, Southern Nevada Water Authority: “What has been a slow motion train wreck for 20 years has been accelerating, and the moment of reckoning is near.”

The two-decade old drought has dropped the depth of the nation’s two largest water reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, to levels unseen since the reservoirs were first filled over 60 years ago. The dwindling flows of the Colorado River are making it more and more difficult to meet the contractual commitments of water service to various cities and states in the region. 

Camille Touton, Bureau of Reclamation: “But in the Colorado River basin, more conservation and demand management are needed in addition to the actions already underway. Between two and four million acre feet of additional conservation is needed just to protect critical levels in 2023.”


An acre foot of water is roughly equivalent to the annual water usage of a family of four. 

Scientists have estimated that the current drought is the worst in the region over the last 1,200 years.

Much of the discussion centered around future water usage.

Maurice Hall, Environmental Defense Fund: “We do have options, but, we have to manage for the rain and snow patterns that climate scientists tell us we are in for, not for the patterns we long for.” 


Patrick O’Toole, Savery, WY: “I graze my entire operation in the National Forest. It is dead. It is not generating water. The headwaters of the Colorado River is not generating near the numbers of acre feet that it should be because the forest isn’t functioning.”

Sen. Mark Kelley, D, AZ: “If basin states cannot reach an agreement, is the Department prepared to take actions to impose restrictions on other states without regard to river priority?”

Camille Touton, Bureau of Reclamation: “Yes we will protect the system. But we are not at that point yet.” 

The struggle between thirsty crops and thirsty city residents was the crux of some of the testimony. 

John Entsminger, Southern Nevada Water Authority: “Congress needs to make massive investments into agricultural efficiencies. I agree with Mr. O’Toole that we need to prioritize food security, but we can’t balance the structural deficit by evacuating cities. So we are going to need to make our ability to grow the same amount of food with less water a priority.”

Sen Mike Lee, R, UT: “What can you tell me about the Bureau’s priorities moving forward as they relate to water levels at Lake Powell?”

Camille Touton, Bureau of Reclamation: “What we are prioritizing right now is short term. What actions to make up for that 2-4 million acre feet in the basin, to help protect Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Because all of the actions that you mentioned, of the 1 million acre feet that we did this year, buys us a year, and we cannot be in the same place next year where we are talking about critical levels to protect power pool.”

The National Weather Service expects drought conditions in most of the Southwest to worsen through the summer.

For Market to Market, I’m Peter Tubbs.