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Feds will ration water from the Colorado River amid historic drought

Mineral-colored rocks will be on display at Echo Bay on June 21, 2021 in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada.

Ethan Miller | Getty Images

The US government on Monday declared the first water shortage in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country by volume, after the water level fell to a record low amid a decades-long drought.

The water cuts will go into effect for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico in January, the Bureau of Reclamation said on Monday. Arizona will be hardest hit, with about 18% of the state’s annual allotment cut.

The Colorado River provides water and electricity to more than 40 million people in the west, while also providing approximately 2.5 million acres of farmland. Cities served include Phoenix, which was the fastest growing city in the United States for the past decade according to the Arizona Republic and is now the fifth largest city in the country.

Earlier this summer, reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin fell to their lowest level on record after 22 consecutive years of drought. In just five years, Lake Mead and Lake Powell have lost 50% of their capacity.

Officials believe Lake Mead’s water level is just below 1,066 feet on Jan. 1, which is about nine feet below the trigger level of 1,075 feet.

At a press conference following the announcement, officials said “additional action is likely to be required in the near future” as the situation worsens. More than 98% of the western US is currently in drought, 64% in extreme drought conditions.

“We are seeing the effects of climate change in the Colorado River Basin through prolonged drought, temperature extremes, widespread forest fires, and in some places floods and landslides, and now it is time to take action to respond,” said Tanya Trujillo. Deputy Secretary for Water and Science in the Ministry of the Interior.

Lake Mead was created through the construction of the Hoover Dam and extends over more than 750 miles of coastline.

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