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Southwest braces as Lake Mead water levels drop

  • In this July 18, 2014 photo, a fish cleaning station is seen far from any water at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in the reservoir to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 18, 2014 photo, a fish cleaning station is seen far from any water at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in the reservoir to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 18, 2014 photo, the bathtub ring of light minerals that delineates the high water mark on Lake Mead is seen at Hemenway Harbor in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in the reservoir to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 18, 2014 photo, the bathtub ring of light minerals that delineates the high water mark on Lake Mead is seen at Hemenway Harbor in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in the reservoir to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 16, 2014 photo, what was once the Echo Bay Marina sits high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 16, 2014 photo, what was once the Echo Bay Marina sits high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 24, 2014 photo, wind kicks up dust on an area that was once under water at Hemenway Harbor in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. As the lake levels drop the floating marinas move to adjust to the changing shoreline. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 24, 2014 photo, wind kicks up dust on an area that was once under water at Hemenway Harbor in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. As the lake levels drop the floating marinas move to adjust to the changing shoreline. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 20, 2014 photo, the bathtub ring of light minerals that delineates the high water mark is seen reflected in a widow of the Desert Princess tour boat near Hoover Dam on Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in the reservoir to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 20, 2014 photo, the bathtub ring of light minerals that delineates the high water mark is seen reflected in a widow of the Desert Princess tour boat near Hoover Dam on Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in the reservoir to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 16, 2014 photo, a buoy at what was once the Echo Bay Marina sits high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 16, 2014 photo, a buoy at what was once the Echo Bay Marina sits high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 16, 2014 photo, docks at what was once the Echo Bay Marina sit high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 16, 2014 photo, docks at what was once the Echo Bay Marina sit high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 18, 2014 photo, Lily Yoder, 13, climbs on a boat at the Boulder Harbor boat ramp in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. The light band of rock on the hill behind delineates the high water mark on Lake Mead, which has shrunk to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 18, 2014 photo, Lily Yoder, 13, climbs on a boat at the Boulder Harbor boat ramp in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. The light band of rock on the hill behind delineates the high water mark on Lake Mead, which has shrunk to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 16, 2014 photo, a dock at what was once the Echo Bay Marina sits high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 16, 2014 photo, a dock at what was once the Echo Bay Marina sits high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 28, 2014 photo, lightning strikes over Lake Mead near Hoover Dam at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona. On the left are the Arizona intake towers of Hoover Dam. The bathtub ring of light minerals shows the high water mark of the reservoir which has shrunk to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 28, 2014 photo, lightning strikes over Lake Mead near Hoover Dam at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona. On the left are the Arizona intake towers of Hoover Dam. The bathtub ring of light minerals shows the high water mark of the reservoir which has shrunk to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 28, 2014 photo, lightning strikes over Lake Mead near Hoover Dam at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona. On the left are the Arizona intake towers of Hoover Dam. The bathtub ring of light minerals shows the high water mark of the reservoir which has shrunk to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    In this July 28, 2014 photo, lightning strikes over Lake Mead near Hoover Dam at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona. On the left are the Arizona intake towers of Hoover Dam. The bathtub ring of light minerals shows the high water mark of the reservoir which has shrunk to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

  • In this July 18, 2014 photo, a fish cleaning station is seen far from any water at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in the reservoir to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 18, 2014 photo, the bathtub ring of light minerals that delineates the high water mark on Lake Mead is seen at Hemenway Harbor in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in the reservoir to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 16, 2014 photo, what was once the Echo Bay Marina sits high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 24, 2014 photo, wind kicks up dust on an area that was once under water at Hemenway Harbor in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. As the lake levels drop the floating marinas move to adjust to the changing shoreline. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 20, 2014 photo, the bathtub ring of light minerals that delineates the high water mark is seen reflected in a widow of the Desert Princess tour boat near Hoover Dam on Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in the reservoir to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 16, 2014 photo, a buoy at what was once the Echo Bay Marina sits high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 16, 2014 photo, docks at what was once the Echo Bay Marina sit high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 18, 2014 photo, Lily Yoder, 13, climbs on a boat at the Boulder Harbor boat ramp in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. The light band of rock on the hill behind delineates the high water mark on Lake Mead, which has shrunk to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 16, 2014 photo, a dock at what was once the Echo Bay Marina sits high and dry next to Lake Mead in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. A 14-year drought has caused the water level in Lake Mead to shrink to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 28, 2014 photo, lightning strikes over Lake Mead near Hoover Dam at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona. On the left are the Arizona intake towers of Hoover Dam. The bathtub ring of light minerals shows the high water mark of the reservoir which has shrunk to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)
  • In this July 28, 2014 photo, lightning strikes over Lake Mead near Hoover Dam at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona. On the left are the Arizona intake towers of Hoover Dam. The bathtub ring of light minerals shows the high water mark of the reservoir which has shrunk to its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Once-teeming Lake Mead marinas are idle as a 14-year drought steadily drops water levels to historic lows. Officials from nearby Las Vegas are pushing conservation, but are also drilling a new pipeline to keep drawing water from the lake.

Hundreds of miles away, farmers who receive water from the lake behind the Hoover Dam are preparing for the worst.

The receding shoreline at one of the main reservoirs in the vast Colorado River water system is raising concerns about the future of a network serving a perennially parched region home to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland.

Marina operators, water managers and farmers who for decades have chased every drop of water across the booming Southwest and part of Mexico are closely tracking the reservoir water level already at its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s.

“We just hope for snow and rain up in Colorado, so it’ll come our way,” said marina operator Steve Biggs, referring to precipitation in the Rockies that flows down the Colorado River to help fill the reservoir separating Nevada and Arizona.

By 2016, continued drought could trigger cuts in water deliveries to both states. While water authorities say they’ve been saving water for potential dry days, the prospect of the first cuts is already prompting action.

“I’ve downsized in the last couple of years, probably a good thing the way this water shortage is going,” said farmer Dennis Bagnall, who has planted just 225 of the 1,500 acres that are typically green this time of year on his farm south of Phoenix.

Last week, officials announced an $11 million pilot program involving the federal government and water agencies in Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix to pay farmers, cities and industries to reduce river water use.

“We can certainly hope for better conditions than we’ve experienced in recent times, but we have to actively and continue to plan for the worst case,” said Michael Lacey, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

This week, an update from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the keeper of the Colorado River network’s dams and reservoirs, will help set the course for water deliveries for the next two years. Administrators say they are confident they can meet current commitments next year.

Federal officials and water administrators in metro areas such as Las Vegas and Phoenix say they’re committed to finding new ways to make every drop of river water count – from cloud seeding to pipelines to new reservoirs to desalination plants.

Legacy Comments2

that is nature for ya

Taxpayers paid farmers for decades to not grow food and paid milk farmers not to produce milk. I guess it would be only logical to pay people to not use water in the middle of a drought. Congress continues to prove there is no debt or spending problem in the US.

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