© Adam Kliczek
Lake Mead, one of the largest water supplies in the U.S., reached its lowest level in history this April. The Bureau of Reclamation reported that the reservoir, fed by the Colorado River, is only 37 percent full.
The Colorado River Basin (CRB) is currently experiencing its sixteenth year of drought, which is accompanied by the lowest 16-year water flow in more than 100 years, the U.S. Department of the Interior reports.
Many people hoped that El Niño would alleviate some of the dry conditions, but, as Paul Miller, a government hydrologist, points out, “The Colorado River Basin in general has not seen much increase in precipitation or streamflow.”
The CRB supplies substantial amounts of water to over 10 percent of the U.S. population especially to people living in southwestern states like California, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona. Roughly 83 percent of all the Basin’s water is stored in its two largest lakes, Lake Mead and Lake Powell (which is at 48 percent of capacity).
Despite the drought, officials have failed to implement the aggressive policy restrictions needed to ensure access to water for years to come. This brings up serious concerns about where the surrounding states will get water.
Earlier this month, the California Water Resource Control Board lifted stringent statewide water conservation measures that Governor Brown had instated to mitigate emergency drought conditions. According to the Chair of the Water board, Felicia Marcus, “Drought conditions are far from over, but have improved enough that we can step back from our unprecedented top-down target setting.”
Rains in northern California gave some of the state’s reservoirs a refill. However, California depends on drying water banks, like Lake Mead, for a substantial portion of its water. Although California currently holds priority water rights to the CRB, it isn’t protected from drought. The Bureau of Reclamation has reported that there is small chance that Lake Mead will enter shortage conditions next year. However, there is a 59 percent chance it will fall back into scarcity conditions in 2018.