Largest US Reservoir Declares First-Ever Water Shortage, Issuing Water Cuts in West Amid Drought

by Anna Dunn

US Officials have declared the first-ever water shortage for the massive Lake Mead reservoir, triggering supply cuts to the drought-prone southwest. Additionally, this news comes as governors across ten western states have appealed to the Biden Administration for drought-related disaster aid.

According to Reuters, Arizona and Nevada are amongst the places that’ll be most affected by the shortage, with cuts coming this October. Areas in Mexico will also be affected by the shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released this information in a statement about the situation.

Lake Mead was formed in the 1930s due to the damming of the colorado river. Resting by the Nevada/Arizona border, it remains the largest water reservoir in the United States. 25 million people rely on Lake Mead for water supply. This includes those in Las Vegas, San Diego, Tuscon, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

Lake Mead, along with Lake Powell, is hitting record lows when it comes to the water supply. The amount of storage in the colorado river system is at 40%. That’s down 49% since last year. The hardest-hit state by far is Arizona, which will lose 18% of its annual apportionment. Nevada will lose 7%. Meanwhile, Mexico is also taking a hit, with water apportionments required under a 1944 treaty. The country will lose 5%.

This is going to cause the affected states to make incredibly difficult choices about water use. Therefore, they’ll have to very carefully prioritize and balance allotment to cities, agriculture, and Native American tribes. The region is in a devastating 22nd year of drought.

News of the Water Shortage Comes as No Surprise to Many US Governors in the West

Having battled drought for years, western Governors know this struggle already. Recently, ten governors from the region penned a letter to the Biden Administration asking for more aid that would allow farmers and ranchers to ask for further assistance.

Ranchers and farmers are amongst those that need the most help. Animal feed supplies have been cut severely by the drought. With hay prices soaring, many ranchers are being forced to sell off their livestock or even their land.

“Historic drought levels threaten to eliminate entire crops, depress yields, and harbor extreme levels of pests and disease that add to the cumulative loss,” the letter states.

The massive region has experienced a lower than average snowpack combined with record high temperatures and dry soil. Tanya Trujillo, whose the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, spoke about it in a recent press conference.

“We are seeing the effects of climate change.[…] Unfortunately, that trend may continue.”

The US Drought Monitor report has presented some worrying statistics. 99% of western states have shown drought conditions. That’s up 63% from last year. As scientists and government officials work to find solutions to these conditions, other officials are looking at lake Mead specifically, hoping to prevent further decline.