The federal government has officially declared the first-ever water shortage in the Colorado River basin, which means mandatory water cuts in some states and Mexico in 2022.
The shortage was triggered because water levels in Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border, the largest reservoir in the U.S., are projected to drop so low that it can’t meet the water and energy demands of communities in the West.
“Like much of the West, and across our connected basins, the Colorado River is facing unprecedented and accelerating challenges,” Assistant U.S. Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo said in a statement.
What does this water shortage mean for Colorado? Nothing, legally.
Lake Mead stores water for the states in the lower Colorado River basin — that’s Nevada, Arizona and California. Because Lake Mead has dropped below 1,075 feet, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can mandate water cuts in Arizona and Nevada.
Climate change, drought and overuse of the Colorado River system are jeopardizing the reliability of this water, which supplies 40 million people in the West. Lake Mead hit its lowest level on record this year, as did the second-largest reservoir in the U.S. — Lake Powell.
A 100-year-old water-sharing agreement means Colorado and the other states in the upper Colorado River basin — New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — are legally obligated to send a certain amount of water downstream to the lower-basin states and Mexico.