Low water level at Lake Mead
Low water levels due to drought are seen in the Hoover Dam reservoir of Lake Mead near Las Vegas. REUTERS/Bridget Bennett

Federal officials on Monday issued the first-ever “Level 1” shortage declaration for the massive reservoir of Lake Mead on the Colorado River, triggering major water cuts for Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

The cuts for water users downstream from Hoover Dam will begin in October, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement of a Level 1 Shortage Condition at Lake Mead underscores the value of the collaborative agreements we have in place with the seven basin states, tribes, water users and Mexico in the management of water in the Colorado River Basin,” said Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Touton. 

But she warned that other reservoirs were short as well and “we have not eliminated the potential for continued decline of these critically important reservoirs” during what has become a historic drought.

Total Colorado River system storage is currently at 40% of capacity, down from 49% at this time last year.

The cutbacks do not yet effect California, which has higher priority rights to Colorado River water.

San Diego County Water Authority Board Chair Gary Croucher said the San Diego region continues to have adequate supplies of water, but acknowledged that “we are all in this together” and urged residents to avoid wasting water.

“Declining water availability on the Colorado River and worsening drought conditions statewide underscore the importance of collective actions to ensure reliable water supplies not only for today, but for next year and for future generations,” he said. “Thankfully, the San Diego region has prepared for dry periods and our water supplies will continue to sustain our economy and quality of life.”

Croucher recommended checking irrigation systems for leaks and repairing them quickly, keeping chilled water in the fridge instead of running the tap to let it cool, keeping showers to 5 minutes or less, and applying mulch around plants to reduce evaporation.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.