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Northern Arizona may see drinking water cutoff as Lake Powell continues to dry up

Interior Department calling for emergency cuts to water deliveries. Arizona's top water official: 'We're going to have to live with less water.'

PHOENIX — Arizona's top water official says he never thought this day would come so soon.

Federal officials are warning that the West's escalating water crisis could put some Arizona communities' "health and safety" at risk, by cutting off their supply of drinking water. 

"This is really getting to (be) a health and safety issue... the health and safety of those who want to turn on the tap and have water," Tom Buschatzke, Arizona's director of water resources, said in an interview on this weekend's "Sunday Square Off."

RELATED: Lake Powell's drastic drop in water level shown in clear satellite images

Arizona and other Western states have until Friday to respond to an emergency request to postpone their water deliveries from the Colorado River, in order to shore up a rapidly diminishing Lake Powell.

If Lake Powell's levels continue to fall, the letter says, access to drinking water would be cut off for the 7,500 residents of Page, at the southwestern tip of the reservoir, and the neighboring Navajo community of LeChee.

"I never thought this day would come this quickly," Buschatzke said. "But I think we always knew that this day was potentially out there." 

 "We're going to have to learn to live with less water," he said.

The goal is to keep water levels at Lake Powell high enough to support power generation at the lake's Glen Canyon Dam and future water supplies to Lake Mead. 

The two reservoirs on the Colorado River provide 40 percent of Arizona's water supply. But the lake levels have declined precipitously over the last 20 years, owing to a historic megadrought and the effects of human-caused climate change. 

RELATED: Running dry: Pine-Strawberry's proposed solution to its water crisis may backfire

"Our task is to avoid the outcome in which the reservoirs are empty... and it's getting more difficult," said Buschatzke, who's shepherded Arizona water resources for 40 years.

Buschatzke did say the state would respond to the Interior Department's request to delay water deliveries.

"We will take actions to protect Arizona," he said. "I just can't say if it will be the specific action that the secretary proposed, but we will act."

Also on "Sunday Square Off," Chad Campbell, a former House Democratic leader, and Marcus Dell'Artino, a Republican consultant at First Strategic Public Affairs, discuss:

-How will lawmakers spend a record surplus? There's a standoff at the Capitol over Arizona's state budget, and how to spend a $5 billion surplus. Campbell and Dell'Artino take us inside the struggle to line up votes for the budget and tell us how the surplus will likely be spent. 

-What is the Arizona Democratic Party thinking? The party's puzzling pursuit of a redistricting challenge and apparent inability to mount a campaign to win the Legislature have many political observers wondering what the party's thinking.

"Sunday Square Off" airs at 8 a.m. Sundays on 12 News, after NBC's "Meet the Press," with moderator Chuck Todd.

Scorched Earth

12 News, along with sister stations across Western states, set out to understand the dire conditions Arizona and other states face as drought and wildfire continue to rage.

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