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'We have had to make difficult choices this year': Lake Mead getting close to reaching next shortage threshold, projections show

New projections show Lake Mead's water levels could be sinking closer to a threshold that would initiate more cutbacks for Arizona in the next couple of years.

ARIZONA, USA — New projections released Thursday suggest Lake Mead, a valuable water resource for Arizona, could be sinking closer to a threshold that will trigger more water cutbacks for the state.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its newest projections for Lake Mead's water supply, which show the reservoir edging closer to reaching harmful benchmark by the end of 2022.  

"The October projections indicate Lake Mead will be at elevation 1,050.63 feet at the end of calendar year 2022, less than one foot above the Tier 2 shortage elevation threshold of 1,050 feet," the Bureau wrote in a statement.  

Arizona is part of a five-tiered water reduction plan that divides up how Western states will reduce their water allotments as Lake Mead's levels continue to shrink. 

A Tier 1 shortage was declared earlier this year, which forced Arizona to prepare for a big cut in 2022. The Tier 1 shortage mainly affects the state's agricultural users. 

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Now the Bureau is estimating a Tier 2 shortage could be looming in the near future. Thursday's projections show Lake Mead has a 16% chance of operating under a Tier 2 shortage by 2023.

During a Tier 2 shortage, Arizona would lose another 80,000 acre-feet of water annually on top of the 512,000 acre-feet that was taken away in Tier 1.  

Credit: KPNX

The next benchmark, Tier 2b, would require Arizona to lose another 48,000 acre-feet of water.

Experts have previously said Tier 3 shortages, which would likely affect municipal water resources, may be implemented by 2024 and would result in Arizona cutting 720,000 acre-feet, in total, from its supply.

“We have had to make difficult choices this year, and we will all have to make more difficult decisions if it continues to remain dry next year to protect Lake Mead and Lake Powell," said Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Basin Regional Director Jacklynn Gould.

The October projections are the first to include inflow forecasts developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, which incorporate updated climate conditions and data sets.

The Bureau said its committed to reducing the collective risk of Lake Mead falling below critical elevations and will continue to work with all partners to ensure Arizona's water needs are met.

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Scorched Earth