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