Lake Mead is headed towards its lowest water levels since the Hoover Dam was completed in 1936. On August 16th, the Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage, prompting never before seen water cuts. For the time being, these initial cuts will mostly affect Arizona’s farmers, but the effects will be felt by agriculture and industry in Nevada, New Mexico, and even south of the border in Mexico itself.
According to the New York Times, “The Bureau of Reclamation, an agency of the Interior Department, declared the shortage as it issued its latest outlook for the river for the next 24 months. That forecast showed that by the end of this year Lake Mead, the huge reservoir near Las Vegas, would reach a level of 1,066 feet above sea level. It hasn’t seen a level that low since it began to fill after the completion of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. The lake will be at 34 percent of capacity.”
Larger cuts are likely to follow that will affect the nearly 40 million people in the American West who rely on the river to survive.
“As this inexorable-seeming decline in the supply continues, the shortages that we’re beginning to see implemented are only going to increase,” said Jennifer Pitt, who directs the Colorado River program at the National Audubon Society. “Once we’re on that train, it’s not clear where it stops.”
Water shortages in the Colorado River drainage will likely affect not only industry along the waterway but also the local economies built around recreating on the river.