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Climate Adaptation

Colorado River Water Rationed for First Time Amid Drought

  • Arizona, Nevada, Mexico will get less as reservoirs shrink
  • Arizona farmers to bear the brunt, while cities are spared
The Colorado River in Bullhead City, Arizona, on June 16.
The Colorado River in Bullhead City, Arizona, on June 16.Photographer: Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg
Updated on

Federal officials ordered the first-ever water cuts on the Colorado River system that sustains 40 million people, the latest blow from a decades-long drought across the U.S. West that has shrunk reservoirs to historic lows, devastated farms and set the stage for deadly forest fires.

The move will deal a harsh setback to Arizona farmers, who will suffer the largest cuts. Water deliveries to Nevada and Mexico will drop as well under a system hammered out in 2019 by the communities that rely on the river. And with the possibility of another dry La Nina winter looming, more reductions could follow.