As climate change continues to exacerbate a drought in the Colorado River, the Department of the Interior has declared a shortage that will lead to the first-ever federally mandated cuts of the river’s supply to a number of states in the American Southwest.
The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates within the Interior Department, said the cuts would go into effect after the drought brought the levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the country’s two largest reservoirs which are fed by the Colorado River, to historically low levels.
Lake Mead provides water to about 25 million people in Arizona, Nevada, California and even Mexico, according to the National Park Service. However, it is currently only at about 40 percent capacity. The Colorado River supplies water to even more people — over 40 million — in seven states (the three mentioned above as well as New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming) and Mexico.
However, starting Jan. 1, both Arizona (18 percent) and Nevada (7 percent) will have the Colorado River supply cut. The reduction in Arizona alone will be roughly equivalent to the total that would serve 1.5 million households.
Additional cuts could follow as soon as a year later if Lake Mead and Lake Powell continue to drop, which would likely affect the areas the river services in its upper basin.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 95 percent of the West was in drought as of last week.
Story by David Matthews, New York Daily News