As a massive “megadrought” grips the Western U.S., water levels in Lake Mead reached a historic all-time low as of Wednesday night, according to CBS News. The water levels have fallen steadily as inflow from the Colorado River and its tributaries have dried up, reported USA Today.

  • According to The Weather Channel, 89% of the Western U.S. is experiencing drought conditions.
  • More than half — about 55% — of the West is experiencing the highest levels of “extreme” and “exceptional” drought, reported The Weather Channel.

The low water levels in Lake Mead are likely to lead to historic water cuts for multiple southwestern states, reported Reuters.

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What is Lake Mead? Why is it important?

Formed in 1937 by the construction of the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the U.S. The reservoir supplies water to 25 million people in Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson and Las Vegas, per Reuters.

  • Arizona and Nevada rely on Lake Mead for water, especially for agricultural production, said USA Today.

How low is the water level in Lake Mead?

Water levels in Lake Mead have been dropping faster than officials predicted, according to USA Today. Only two weeks ago, officials projected the lake would reach its all-time low on June 13 but that record came four days early on June 9.

The reservoir’s water level is expected to continue dropping until November, the end of the agricultural season, reported NBC News. However, water levels may continue to fall next year and into 2023, said USA Today.

  • Lake Mead has not been full since 2000 with water levels falling 140 vertical feet since then — including falling 20 feet in the last 12 months, reported USA Today.
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What happens now?

The federal government may need to declare a water shortage and cut water supplies from Lake Mead if the water level continues to fall. According to NBC News, this is likely. Cutting water supplies from Lake Mead would affect Arizona, Nevada and the Republic of Mexico.

  • The federal government will make a decision in August, said NBC News.