Move likely to hit farmers hardest, reducing access to region’s economic lifeblood amid protracted drought.
The federal government has declared the first-ever shortage of water on the Colorado River, triggering cutbacks in several states that will hit farmers particularly hard during a drought that has punished the Southwest with little letup since the turn of the century.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made the declaration Monday after forecasting that Nevada’s Lake Mead, the river’s biggest reservoir, would remain below 1,075 feet above sea level—the mark previously set to trigger mandatory cutbacks—through at least early next year. As of Monday, Lake Mead measured 1,068 feet, the lowest since the reservoir was created by construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. The bureau estimates the level will dip further to 1,066 by Jan. 1 next year.