Key reservoir on Colorado River hits record low amid drought

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — A major reservoir on the Colorado River has plummeted to its record low in the latest display of drought grip in the region.

The surface elevation of Lake Mead along the Nevada-Arizona border dropped to 1,071.56 feet at 11 p.m. Wednesday. According to the US Bureau of Reclamation, the level last hit in July 2016 and is 18.5 feet lower than it was a year ago. This is the lowest level since Lake Mead was filled in the 1930s.

“We are expecting the reservoir to continue to decline until November, then it should resume,” said Patti Aarons, a spokeswoman for the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Water levels affect the entertainment industry, one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the country, and the efficiency of hydropower generation at Hoover Dam.

It won’t be used to determine next year’s water distribution in Arizona, California and Nevada until August, until the Bureau of Reclamation issues an official projection. Already, the agency has said it expects to announce the first reductions, indicating cuts in Arizona and Nevada.

“People are definitely worried,” Aaron said. “You look at the reservoir and it belongs.”

The level of Lake Mead fluctuates and flows throughout the year depending on weather patterns and how much water is consumed or evaporated. Officials estimate the lake will drop to 1,064 feet before rebounding in November, when agriculture will need a reduction, Aaron said.

States, water districts and tribes have created Lake Mead through various agreements over the years to keep it from collapsing to a point where it cannot deliver water downstream.

The Colorado River supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, as well as a $5 billion annual agricultural industry.

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