It seemed inevitable that the dwindling Colorado River would be divvied up by the federal Bureau of Reclamation. On June 14, the Bureau gave the seven states in the Colorado River compact just 60 days to find a way to cut their total water usage by up to 4 million acre-feet. No plans emerged.

But surprisingly, the Bureau’s Aug. 16 press release imposed no new cuts on states, instead affirming cuts mandated under 2007 and 2019 agreements. Nevada and Mexico took minor losses and Arizona emerged as the first big loser.

BuRec said Arizona must cut 592,000 acre-feet “because of the concession it made back in 1968 to California to get the Central Arizona Project online,” says University of Wyoming law professor Jason Robison. That concession meant the 1.4 million acre-feet capacity of the Central Arizona Project has junior water rights. In a shortage — like now — the Central Arizona Project, except for tribal water rights, could be cut to zero, a blow to cities and agriculture.

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