Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the nation, is shrinking drastically—with consequences that could ripple across the West.
More than a decade into a drought that has plagued the Southwest, federal officials for the first time plan a sharp cut in the amount of Colorado River water that flows 360 miles from Lake Powell into Lake Mead. In the year starting Oct. 1, officials at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Friday, that supply will drop by nearly 10%—roughly equivalent to the annual water usage of about 700,000 families.
The cut will translate into a reduction in hydroelectric power generation in some areas served by the reservoir—Nevada, Arizona and California—and brings the reservoir level close to a federal declaration of a water shortage. Such a declaration would mean that Nevada and Arizona would face having their water allocations cut.
"This drought continues and we can't really tell when it's going to end," said Terry Fulp, director of the bureau's lower Colorado region. "It points out we have to be cautious with all of our water use."