Brett Walton had a great bit of business in yesterday’s Circle of Blue story on 2019’s remarkable drop in Colorado River Lower Basin water use:
The last time water consumption from the river was that low was in 1986, the year after an enormous canal in Arizona opened that allowed the state to lay claim to its full Colorado River entitlement.
Which led, over on the twitter, to a discussion involving the LA Times’ Sammy Roth and others about how people were talking, and thinking, about the milestone back in 1985 when the Central Arizona Project first switched on.
As we were working on our book Science Be Dammed, Eric Kuhn and I often turned to newspapers of the day to see what people were saying publicly about the events we were studying, as they were happening. For the 1985 milestone, we turned to the LA Times’ Bill Boyarsky. From Chapter 18 of the book:
With hindsight, it is possible to date the beginning of the twenty-first-century changes on the Colorado River to March of 1985, when Arizona pumped the first water from Lake Havasu into the Central Arizona Project canal. “Now as a trickle but soon as a torrent,” Bill Boyarsky wrote from Phoenix in the Los Angeles Times, “Arizona is finally taking its share of the Colorado River, and the impact will be felt from here to the Pacific beaches.” Boyarsky’s warning was explicit—the surplus water that until then had flowed west to Southern California would now be headed east, toward the Phoenix metro area, which was growing at a rate of more than 75,000 people a year.
In 1985, California took 4.8 million acre feet of main stem water from the Colorado. In 2019, it took 3.9 million acre feet.