By Daniel Rothberg/The Nevada Independent

Arizona and Nevada will face first-ever cuts to their Colorado River supplies next year, federal officials reported Monday. The shortage declaration is a historic determination for a watershed parched by aridification and overuse and which supports roughly 40 million people in the Southwest, including Las Vegas.

The cuts announced by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation mark a significant moment in the management of a river that stretches across seven states and two countries, winding from Wyoming to Mexico and diverted along the way for use by cities, tribes, agriculture and businesses.

In a statement, Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science, said “the Colorado River is facing unprecedented and accelerating challenges.”

“The only way to address these challenges and climate change is to utilize the best available science and to work cooperatively across the landscapes and communities that rely on the Colorado River,” she said. “That is precisely the focus of the White House Interagency Drought Working Group — a multi-agency partnership created to collaborate with states, tribes, farmers and communities impacted by drought and climate change to build and enhance regional resilience.”

Southwest water officials have seen the cuts coming for more than a decade, going as far as to outline in detail how shortages would work in multistate agreements. But the speed at which the cuts have come has been striking for the public. This summer, the river’s two largest reservoirs — banks to store water — dropped to their lowest levels since they were first filled last century.

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