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Shortage Means Federal Water Cuts

Drought fueled by climate change leads to record low levels in major reservoirs
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 16, 2021 2:32 PM CDT
Western States Face Federal Water Cuts
A buoy sits above the waterline at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area Friday near Boulder City, Nev. Water levels at Lake Mead, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, have fallen to record lows.   (AP Photo/John Locher)

(Newser) – Officials on Monday are expected to declare the first-ever water shortage from a river that serves 40 million people in the American West, triggering cuts to some Arizona farmers next year amid a gripping drought. Water levels at the largest reservoir on the Colorado River—Lake Mead—have fallen to record lows. Along its perimeter, a white “bathtub ring” of minerals outlines where the high-water line once stood, underscoring the acute water challenges for a region facing a growing population and a drought that is being worsened by hotter, drier weather brought on by climate change, the AP reports. States, cities, farmers, and others have diversified their water sources over the years, helping soften the blow of the upcoming cuts. But if current conditions persist or intensify additional cuts in coming years will be more deeply felt.

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Lake Mead was formed by building Hoover Dam in the 1930s. It is one of several man-made reservoirs that store water from the Colorado River, which supplies drinking water, irrigation for farms and hydropower to Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and parts of Mexico. But water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the river's two largest reservoirs, have been falling for years and faster than experts predicted. Scorching temperatures and less melting snow in the spring have reduced the amount of water flowing from the Rocky Mountains, where the river originates before it snakes 1,450 miles southwest and into the Gulf of California. “We’re at a moment where we’re reckoning with how we continue to flourish with less water, and it’s very painful,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University.

(Read more drought stories.)

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