September 7, 2016--The forecast for Lake Mead: Hot and dry with plenty of anxiety (Los Angeles Times)

A reckoning arrives every August for the Colorado River and the 40 million people across the West who depend on it. After water managers measure annual inflows and outflows and do their best to estimate future precipitation in places as far-flung as northwestern Wyoming and southwestern New Mexico, they make a pronouncement that once was arcane but has become increasingly prominent — and ominous. Technically, what they announce is the projected elevation of Lake Mead, the Colorado River’s largest reservoir, on Jan. 1 for each of the next two years. Psychologically, in a region already parched by years of drought and staring into a hotter, drier, climate-changed future, they are forecasting anxiety.

Under current policy, if the projected elevation falls below 1,075 feet on Jan. 1, states in the southern part of the basin face a “shortage.” That would prompt mandatory cuts in water use that could force farmers to fallow fields and require cities and tribes to reduce use. In the eight decades since the Hoover Dam was completed and Lake Mead was first filled, that has never happened. Then, last month, it did. For a while. Sort of. Maybe. On Aug. 16, the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the basin, projected that Lake Mead would fall below the 1,075 threshhold — not next year, but in 2018. It released a report predicting it would reach the 2018 shortage by a narrow margin — the lake would fall to 1.074.31 feet on Dec. 31, 2017 — but it would be a shortage nonetheless. Yet the following week, another bureau report came out that shed more light on that forecast. Instead of just projecting an elevation level, it stated the specific probability that the lake would hit that level. The chance, the agency said, was 48%. Or, as Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the Lower Colorado region of the bureau, put it: “It’s kind of a flip of the coin.” So, by that math, maybe there will be a shortage in 2018 and maybe there will not be. Maybe the Southwest will finally confront the very real limits of its water supply. Or maybe it will not. Except the story does not end there. To view the full article visit the Los Angeles Times.