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U.S. authorities declared an official water shortage for the huge Lake Mead reservoir on Monday, triggering supply cuts to parts of the drought-stricken Southwest, with 10 Western governors called for federal aid in the event of a drought.
The shortage will reduce water distributions to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico for the year beginning in October, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Interior Department, said in a statement.
Arizona will lose 18 percent of its annual distribution, while Nevada could experience cuts of seven percent. Allocations to Mexico, required under a 1944 treaty, will be reduced by five percent.
Ten Western governors similarly urged President Joe Biden to declare a federal drought disaster in their states, which would permit farmers and ranchers to seek special assistance “beyond what is available under emergency programs."
The governors wrote in a letter: “Historic drought levels threaten to wipe out entire crops, reduce yields and harbor extreme levels of pests and diseases that add to cumulative losses."
The reservoir supply cuts will mean less water – and tough allocation decisions – for agriculture, towns, and Native American tribes in the arid region, which is at risk of its 22nd year of drought.
“We are seeing the effects of climate change,” Tanya Trujillo, Interior Department assistant secretary for water and science, said at an online press conference. She pointed to the region’s below-average snowpack, high temperatures and dry ground conditions. “Unfortunately, this trend could continue,” Trujillo said.
According to the letter of the governors, drought has dramatically reduced feed supplies in the U.S. West, pushing up hay prices as many herders and farmers are forced to auction livestock or consider selling their land for development.
Breaking: The federal government has declared a shortage on the Colorado River for the first time, announcing mandatory water cutbacks next year that will affect Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows drought conditions in 99% of the western United States, up from 63% a year ago, with an estimated 59.2 million Americans living in drought-affected areas.
Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States, formed in the 1930s from the Colorado River dam on the Nevada-Arizona border, and proving crucial for the water supply of 25 million people in the metropoles of Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas.
The Interior Department said a crippling drought in the western United States has brought Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the country’s second largest reservoir, to historic lows, as total water storage in the Colorado River system stands at 40% of capacity, up from 49% a year ago.
According to annual study anticipating the water levels of the reservoirs in winter, in January, Lake Mead is expected to be 324.9 meters above sea level, 2.7 meters below the official trigger for a shortage.
Officials said the elevation of the reservoir is expected to continue to decline, and that Arizona, California and Nevada are considering measures necessary to prevent the reservoir from dropping below 310.9 meters.