The federal government on Monday declared the first water shortage on the Colorado River, announcing mandatory cutbacks next year that will bring major challenges for Arizona farmers and reduce the water allotments of Nevada and Mexico.
The declaration of a shortage by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been expected for months and was triggered by the spiraling decline of Lake Mead, which stores water used by Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico.
The reservoir near Las Vegas has fallen to its lowest levels since Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s and is still dropping after years of chronic overuse and drought. It now stands at just 35% of full capacity.
With the reservoir projected to continue dropping, state officials from Arizona, California and Nevada said they've begun meeting to talk about additional steps to reduce the risks of Lake Mead falling to critically low levels.
Federal water managers said the first shortage declaration shows how severe the drought has become and how climate change is having serious effects on the river, which provides water for about 40 million people.