The federal government on Monday declared a water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time, triggering mandatory water consumption cuts for states in the Southwest, as climate change-fueled drought pushes the level in Lake Mead to unprecedented lows.
Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US by volume, has drained at an alarming rate this year. At around 1,067 feet above sea level and 35% full, the Colorado River reservoir is at its lowest since the lake was filled after the Hoover Dam was completed in the 1930s.
Lake Powell, which is also fed by the Colorado River and is the country's second-largest reservoir, recently sank to a record low and is now 32% full.
"It's very significant," Brad Udall, senior water and climate scientist at Colorado State University, told CNN. "It's something that those of us in the climate community have been worried about for over a decade, based on declining flows due to climate change."
With the lake expected to remain at around 1,066 feet of elevation into 2022, according to the US Bureau of Reclamation's latest monthly projections, the agency announced that the Colorado River will go into the first tier of water cuts beginning January 1.