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Water Shortage

GOING DRY A white ring shows how far the water level has fallen at Lake Mead, in Arizona and Nevada, on July 1. DAVID MCNEW—GETTY IMAGES

The United States government announced on August 16 that it has declared a water shortage on the Colorado River. The shortage is the result of a drought in the Southwest. Scientists say it is one of the worst droughts in 1,200 years.

“It’s a historic moment where drought and climate change are at our door,” Chuck Cullom says. He’s a manager with the Central Arizona Project. That’s a system that carries water from the Colorado River to homes and farms in Arizona.

Starting next year, the supply of water to Arizona, Nevada, and parts of Mexico will be reduced. Farmers in Arizona will see the biggest decreases, about 20%.

Extreme hot weather is causing water from melting snowcaps to dry up before it reaches the river. Lake Mead is the largest reservoir on the Colorado River. It’s expected to be only 34% full by the end of 2021. If its levels continue to fall, the U.S. government could make further cuts. These could affect 40 million people in seven states and Mexico.

Tanya Trujillo, of the U.S. Department of the Interior, says the communities that depend on the Colorado River will have to work together to conserve the area’s resources. “Now is the time to take action,” she says.

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