As expected, a recent announcement from the United States Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) that warns of a historically low reduction in the amount of water to be released from Lake Powell next year has alarmed water officials across the Southwest and in California.

It has also prompted an organizer for the National Young Farmers Coalition to release a statement warning of a looming water crisis and a sharp decline in future agricultural production if water stakeholders fail to respond with better conservation and water management practices.

The BOR report warns that for the first time ever the water level at Lake Powell next year will dip below a point that automatically triggers a reduction in water that is delivered downstream to Lake Mead, a measure many believe could prompt an unprecedented water crisis if that trend were to span multiple years.

Following the BOR statement, Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy said she believes the time has come to talk about federal disaster aid.  The SNWA is charged with providing water to Las Vegas, and Mulroy says increased demands for water and a water shortage pose a threat to the Southwest and West in the coming years as deadly as Hurricane Sandy was last year for the Eastern third of the nation.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead are the major storage reservoirs for the Colorado River and the largest in the nation. How the reservoirs are managed was decided by terms of the 2007 Interim Guidelines Record of Decision, a document signed by the Secretary of the Interior after extensive consultation with the seven Colorado River Basin states, Native American tribes, federal agencies, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders and interested parties. These guidelines control how water is stored and used at the two reservoirs.

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According to that agreement, both reservoirs are automatically required to be drawn down together in times of drought to limit the amount of shortages imposed on water users.

Lake Powell is approaching a level that, under the guidelines, mandates a 750,000 acre-foot water release reduction to Lake Mead, bringing the delivery down to a total of 7.48 million acre feet. That represents a significant drop from the typical 8.3 million acre feet sent down the river to Lake Mead each year.