LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – The Bureau of Reclamation announced a Tier 1 water shortage at Lake Mead Monday, a first on the Colorado River system.

The Colorado River serves seven states and around 40 million people in the West. The announcement was made during a virtual news conference.

The declaration triggers cuts in releases of water allocations from Lake Mead and Lake Powell to Nevada, Arizona and Mexico. The cuts total 613,000 acre-feet and will hit farmers in central Arizona the hardest. That state will lose 18% of its share from the Colorado River. Nevada will lose about 7% of its allocation but shouldn’t feel the shortage because of conservation efforts. Mexico, which also receives some water from the river, will have a reduction of around 5%. California will not have an immediate cut because it has more senior water rights than Nevada and Arizona.


Water levels at the nation’s largest reservoir have been declining for several years. As of noon Monday, Lake Mead was at 1067.80 feet, down 20 feet just from early March. The Bureau of Reclamation released a 24-month study that projected Lake Mead’s water levels would continue to drop sinking further below the drought contingency plan trigger of 1090 feet. The cut to Nevada starts in Jan. 2022.

During the mega-drought, the lake has dropped 140 feet. It’s estimated it would take at least a decade of very wet years to recover from the drought which started 22 years ago.

“We must adapt to the new reality of a warmer dryer future,” said John Entsminger with the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “We are managing one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive water conservation programs and at the forefront of that program is our ability to sustainability recycle all of our indoor water use,” and to further advance recycled water supplies Nevada and California recently announced a partnership to develop a large-scale water recycling program,”

Nearly 90% of Southern Nevada’s water comes from the Colorado River. The remaining 10% comes from Las Vegas valley groundwater. This graphic illustrates how water gets from the rain and snowmelt in the Colorado Rocky Mountains to Lake Mead.

Southern Nevada Water Authority Graphic shows the water cycle and how water gets from the Rocky Mountains to Lake Mead.

While the cuts will help offset some of the shortage, more will likely need to be done.

“While these agreements and actions have reduced the risk, we have not eliminated the potential for continued decline of these critically important reservoirs,” said Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Touton.

Most residents in Southern Nevada will likely not notice a change after the shortage declaration. The level local usage will be reduced to are still higher than what Nevada typically uses.

Lake Mead is man-made and was formed by building Hoover Dam in the 1930s. It’s one of several reservoirs along the Colorado River. Lake Powell in Arizona, the river’s second-largest reservoir, is also dealing with historic low water levels.