US proclaims first reservoir water shortage in the West, initiating cuts

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Officials in the United States announced a water deficit for the vast Lake Mead reservoir for the first time on Monday, causing supply cuts in areas of the drought-stricken Southwest and prompting a request for federal drought disaster help from 10 Western governors. According to the US Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Interior Department, the scarcity will limit water apportionments to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico for the year beginning in October.

Arizona’s apportionment will be reduced by 18%, while Nevada’s would be reduced by 7%. Mexico’s apportionments, which are mandated by a 1944 treaty, will be reduced by 5%. Separately, ten Western governors requested President Joe Biden to declare a federal drought catastrophe in their states, allowing farmers and ranchers to seek special aid “beyond what is available through existing emergency programs.”

“Historic drought levels threaten to eliminate entire crops, depress yields, and harbor extreme levels of pests and disease that add to the cumulative loss,” the governors wrote in a letter. The reductions in reservoir supplies, while not unexpected, will mean less water for farmers, cities, and Native American tribes in the dry region, which is in its 22nd year of drought.

During an online press conference, Tanya Trujillo, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, remarked, “We are experiencing the effects of climate change.” She cited the region’s below-average snowpack, scorching temperatures, and parched soils as examples.

“Unfortunately that trend may continue,” Trujillo said

Ranchers and farmers are compelled to sell animals or consider selling their land for development because of the drought, according to the letter from the governors. This is an increase from 63 percent a year earlier. An estimated 59.2 million Americans live in drought-stricken areas, according to the survey.

Located on the Nevada-Arizona border, Lake Mead was created in the 1930s by damming the Colorado River. It is currently the largest reservoir in the United States. 25 million people in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas rely on it for their water supply. Drought in the U.S. West has lowered Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the country’s second-largest reservoir, to historic lows, according to the National Park Service. Overall water storage in the Colorado River system has been reduced from 49 percent last year to 40 percent now, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

The reservoir’s elevation is projected to keep falling, the agency said. Arizona, California, and Nevada are mulling actions needed to prevent the reservoir from going below 1,020 feet, officials said.